Nov. 2 (BusinessDesk) - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has poured cold water on the Ports of Auckland's proposal to extend one of its wharves by 13 metres into Waitemata Harbour, just hours after the proposal was released.
Speaking after her first official conversation as prime minister with the mayor of Auckland, former Labour Party leader Phil Goff, Ardern said: "What I'm happy to say is that I have always opposed port expansion at its current site."
While POAL is positioning the longer wharf as part of a package that would also see another wharf removed, a spokesman for Ardern confirmed the government saw the new proposal as a bid for expansion.
The port's proposal, just a week since the new government was sworn in, has irritated key ministers, who regard the proposal as being deaf to the agreement in the coalition agreement between Labour and the New Zealand First parties to investigate moving the port to another site. NZ First leader Winston Peters campaigned on moving the port to Whangarei and upgrading the rail connection to Auckland.
Goff told a brief media conference with Ardern: "I welcome the fact that the government has committed to an upper North Island port study.
"It doesn't make sense for Auckland to make a decision in isolation to what the region and the country actually needs. So this is a draft proposal from the ports. That will go out for public discussion. They will be seeking resource consents but what we've got now is a study that will demonstrate what will work best for Auckland, for the region in the upper North Island and for the country as a whole. I think that study will be what counts for what we do in the future."
In its release, the port said it needed to expand a wharf to accommodate the increasing size of container ships coming to Auckland, the country's main import port, and allow it to continue to service the city and surrounding area for the next 30 years or "until such time as the port is moved".
A Future Port Study involving various stakeholders and completed in July last year under the previous mayor, Len Brown, concluded the port's current location on the waterfront in the Auckland central business district would not be able to handle projected freight growth over the next 50 years and proposed a range of alternatives, including Northport near Whangarei, sites in the Firth of Thames, the Manukau Harbour on Auckland's west coast, and a site near the surf beach of Muriwai.
The port argues it will need some leeway to expand its berthing facilities in the interim.
Ardern also confirmed the new government would continue to use the process created between the previous government and Auckland Council to create the Auckland Transport Alignment Plan, which prioritises transport infrastructure investment for a city that is increasingly congested as around 800 new cars a week take to the road in the country's largest and fast-growing city.
Goff strongly backed the government's plans to build light rail services from central Auckland to the airport and west Auckland, with eastern and northern light rail to follow.
"I've looked around at different models around the world. It's very clear that Auckland has to have a mass transit system," said Goff, who defended the proposed 10 cents per litre regional petrol tax that will allow Auckland Council to contribute up to $1.5 billion of the approximately $3.9 billion cost of the airport and western routes.
"If we did not have the regional fuel tax, we would have to put rates up by probably 15 percent, which would be totally unsustainable, or we would have to introduce a congestion tax which, I think, in London is running at $21 a day. The regional fuel tax is on average probably $2.60 a week. That is absolutely sustainable," said Goff, who said his exploration of other cities showed light rail was "not an outdated technology" but "what countries all around the world are doing".
He was also sympathetic to the use of so-called "value capture" rating on properties that benefited from being close to new public infrastructure, saying the idea had support "across the political spectrum".
"That's a concept that really needs to be explored," he said. "Sometimes when the ratepayer and the taxpayer put in new infrastructure, it puts a massive uplift in the value of your properties. I think it's fair that if you're getting a massive uplift in the value of your property that you make a contribution to the infrastructure that lets that happen."