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Yes to the Port, but with Eyes Wide Open

This page contains a column by Sheryl Mai expressing her position on the proposed movement of Ports of Auckland activity to Northport in Whangarei District.
Updated: 11/12/2019 11:16 a.m.
Mayor Sheryl Mai.
​Mayor Sheryl Mai.

Column by Sheryl Mai published 9 December 2019.

In a recent series of Herald articles on the future of Auckland’s waterfront, it was alleged that no Northland leader has yet ‘raised their head above the parapet’ in open support of moving the Ports of Auckland to Northland.

This is me, head, shoulders, body and all, continuing to fly the flag in support of bringing the Port up north. I have publicly supported bringing functions of the Ports of Auckland to Northport since 2017.

At the time of writing this column, we had still not been given the privilege of laying eyes on the detailed report prepared for Government by the Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy (UNISCS) working group.

Northland leaders have been told that this report contains specific recommendations, calling for immediate adoption of the strategy to move the Ports of Auckland to Northport, and recommending a clear timeline for the necessary infrastructure support projects.

Putting to one side the fact that our Council has yet to see this report, there is no doubt that moving the Ports of Auckland to Northland would require a near complete overhaul of our integrated transport infrastructure.

In early September 2019 it was announced that an investment of $98.4 million from the Provincial Growth Fund would upgrade the rail line between Swanson and Whangārei. This covers some of the necessary funding, but does not include the cost of the all-important rail spur from the main line to Northport. Nor does it take into account costs to upgrade and maintain the roads, which would be handling a significant volume of heavy traffic.

The environmental impact must also be carefully considered. There are significant environmental benefits of using our rail line for more freight; including the easing of congestion on our roads, improved road safety and – importantly – the reduction of carbon emissions.

We also need to manage the enlargement of our existing port environment, what the flow on effects could be to our harbour and surrounds, and what impact this might have on us socially and culturally. Iwi and hapu engagement is imperative, as is close communication with environmental and ecological scientists, strategic planners, local government and the New Zealand Transport Agency.

I agree with Minister Shane Jones’ statement (from a 3 October Radio New Zealand article) that this will be ‘a major, nation-building, transformational project’. There will be effects felt throughout Northland, and while I am sure that most effects will be positive, as with any transformation, there will undoubtably be disruption and adjustment. The more we can predict and prepare, the better.

Do I support the Ports of Auckland moving to Northport? Do I want us to go into this with our eyes wide open? Absolutely.




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