07 May 2015

No Port In Our Backyard

The port of Auckland is having a hard time trying to keep up with growth. They need to make the wharves longer and to reclaim some land for port operations. It is perhaps unfortunate that the port is located in the centre of a city run by people who would rather enjoy their lattes on waterfront promenades, instead of having them cluttered with cranes and containers.

The Grey Lynn aesthetes may be just indulging in their favourite sport, which is to remind the rest of us of their refined sensitivities and moral superiority. Or, they may well be on to something. Perhaps, the best solution would be to move the port to Whangarei, Tauranga or somewhere in the Firth of Thames. Anywhere, in fact, as long as it is as far away as possible from their backyards.

The only problem is that a move to Whangarei would require massive investments in rail and road harbour bridges or tunnels to Auckland, a move to Tauranga would need new tunnels in the Kaimai ranges and a whole new port would require a massive investment in new facilities, in addition to the new road and rail links. And the problem is that in New Zealand, these days, we just don’t do massive infrastructure. It simply not possible to undertake any of those public works without upsetting the habitat of some snails, kauri saplings or taniwhas. So, it is not going to happen.

The alternative to allowing the port to keep up with growth is to condemn it – and the city – to a graceful decline. The bigger container and cruise ships would sail by and Auckland would gradually become a commercial and industrial backwater. Like Wellington.

(This article was first published in the Exporter Magazine)

1 comment:

  1. We received this very interesting comment from Chris Kissling, Emeritus Professor of Transport Studies in Lincoln University:

    I would have imagined watching the workings of a busy port would be a fine pastime while sipping lattes in daylight hours. What portion of the inner harbour coastline is given over to port functions? It does not dominate except right close to downtown. There are other coastal vantage points for relaxing, but again most are privatised property for the enjoyment of owners and friends.

    Yes, if we were starting from the beginning and had foresight we might have chosen another location for the port activity, but we cannot turn back the historical clock. Ports do move over time, usually attracted to deeper water in response to increasing ship size, or repelled trying to escape the congestion that boxes them in. The port moved in Dunedin. It moved in Vancouver and there are many more examples around the world.

    To stay put means solving local access as well as providing working space. Access means overcoming conflicts with all the other traffic on the roads and using the rail right-of-way to maximum advantage. It also means appeasing the local populace who don’t want to use ear plugs to block the music of commerce in action when they are trying to sleep.

    Flat handling space at the port has only one way to expand - into the water via reclamations. Reducing the dwell time of containers within the port confines is a logistics problem for which there are clever solutions.

    We are a trading nation reliant on imports and exports being shifted through our ports. Some say we have too many ports but analysis shows our geography dictates we retain most of those we still have, or else the domestic redistribution would need serious investment in rail corridors and plugging the gaps in the rail network. It is not a likely scenario.

    Cooperative ventures between ports and with those engaged in land transport might yield more efficiencies but you might rue tendencies towards monopoly pricing. Healthy competition is fine but it can lead to over investment in specialist infrastructure as interested parties pursue different agendas and seek to attract fickle maritime companies to make port calls.

    Include a marine park in the development and you might get more likes and ticks from residents on Facebook.

    Blocking the expansion of the Port is not a realistic option. Designing it to be more than just a commercial operation might sugar the pill.

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