Despite New Zealand First lobbying hard at the Cabinet table, the Finance Minister says the case to move Auckland’s port operations north has not yet been made.
Ministers are considering a feasibility report commissioned as part of the coalition deal between Labour and New Zealand First, that mounts a strong case for Northport.
The report, leaked to RNZ, recommends moving “much or all” of Auckland’s freight business to Northport near Whangārei, rejuvenating the main trunk line north and building a new inland freight hub – and getting on with it soon.
But Ports of Auckland is fighting back, releasing a report of its own highlighting drawbacks like increased emissions and import costs if Northport became a reality.
Northport is a very complex, and potentially very expensive, project at about $10 billion
The latest of dozens of scoping reports is now with ministers who continue to grapple with the competing interests and arguments.
Northport won’t happen without the backing of Finance Minister Grant Robertson.
“We certainly haven’t said ‘yes’ to it, we’ve got to make sure we get all the information that we need, he said.
“The report’s a useful contribution but I’ve got further questions I want answered – this is a massive, massive move we’re talking about here.”
Economic Development Minister and New Zealand First MP Shane Jones is the enthusiastic champion of Northport.
He just wants to get on with it, while acknowledging more work needs to be done.
“But I wouldn’t exaggerate the importance of that work in the sense that we’ve already had 17 reports; I’m very keen for the kaupapa to move forward, I think that we can find a sweet spot for all of us as government.”
Ports of Auckland has come out strongly this week against the report led by Wayne Brown, challenging many of its conclusions.
National’s Simon Bridges acknowledged the need to do something with Auckland’s port operations but wasn’t yet convinced about Northport.
“Show me the business case … at the moment all we’ve got is big talk from Shane Jones and his guy up north.”
He wanted to see solid economic analysis from senior government agencies like Treasury and MBIE, but instead “they’ve got Wayne Brown, who knows the answer he’s meant to be delivering”, Mr Bridges said.
When asked if he viewed the working group report as credible, Mr Robertson said he thought it had been done in a “genuine” fashion.
“But that doesn’t mean it answers every question that we’ve got about whether this is the right place to go.”
Another report presented by the Ports of Auckland this week suggested carbon emissions would rise with any move to another port because trucks would have to travel much further – from either Tauranga or Northland – to reach Auckland.
While he’s open-minded about Northport, Climate Change Minister and Green Party co-leader James Shaw said the impact of emissions was of concern.
“That if you were to move the port to anywhere else – including to Northport – how much of the freight would them get moved back to Auckland city via road, particularly by trucks, and what is the emission profile of those trucks?”
Shane Jones was recently told to temper his public comments about the extent of support there was for Northport from a government perspective, rather than his own party New Zealand First.
He acknowledged the only commitment made by Labour was to conduct a feasibility study, which has now been done.
“I’ve never, ever hidden my preference, my advocacy … but it’s not the position of the government at this stage until other questions are answered as to what proportion of the move would involve Northport.”
James Shaw said he was confident politics would not trump good policy with something “this significant”.
“There will be rigourous social, environmental and economic analysis that is done before a final decision is made.”