OPINION: The first installment of the trio of government reports on the overhaul of the Upper North Island ports suggests that Lord of the Rings The movie trilogy will look like a picture compared to what's ahead.
A new 2017 New Zealand policy to shift the import trade of vehicles from Auckland to Northport until this year, as a prelude to re-locating the city's port, has generated – with more caution the policy – the more cautious " Work undertaking the revision of the Supply Chain Strategy of the Upper North Island ".
Changing the balance of work between ports and building new and important transport links would be the country's largest infrastructure project – possibly five or more times the current champion, the $ 4.4 billion City Rail Link.
Considering the apparent value, the painted picture of the current state of the Ports of Auckland, Port of Tauranga and Northport at Marsden Point shows a port sector of poor regional ownership, with duplication and competition, possibly at the expense of national interest.
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Auckland dominates imports, exports from Tauranga both have 40% of their traffic from empty containers in one direction, while Northport is a distant mine with limited access and 70% of the other two.
What began as a plan to free the Auckland seafront from an ugly industrial port, for the benefit of Northport, is now as much, if not more, on the transport links between the ports and centers on the upper part of the North Island .
A bold line in the 21-page report indicates the scale of making any changes.
"We fundamentally believe there is no point in making any further investments in Northport without investment and development of the train line to Auckland."
Call it billions of dollars, who knows how many, 2 or 5? The report does not say.
Done correctly, it involves a section crossing south of Auckland, a third loading line through the suburbs dominated by trains, electrification, and dual or triple tracking from West Auckland to Marsden Point with new tunnels along the way and presumably wagon fleets facilities handling.
Future chapters of the trilogy will explore the change in the ownership structure of ports, noting the low tax status enjoyed by only Auckland and getting a clearer picture of future trading patterns.
Who knows how the future of the private car will be 20 years from now, when the investment of several billion needed to relocate the import trade of vehicles is ready to be delivered.
The three-part study is an important work, taking a long-term view on possible major structural changes in transport links at the top of the North Island and its ports.
The second part outlining some options is scheduled for June and the third part – recommendations – in September, perhaps a month before local politicians who own the port of Auckland, and most of Tauranga and Northland, face re-election.
The interim report has already cast doubt on the idea of building a new superport at the port of Manukau in Auckland or the Firth of Thames, suggesting that the best use of the three ports may be the answer.
"We consider the issues not insurmountable," concluded the interim report of the working group optimistically.
What he did not say was, nor is it likely to be simple, nothing short of expensive, and extremely complex.