Friday, 8 May 2015

Ports of Auckland: Remove the blinkers

Plan of the Auckland waterfront ca. 1930, with the older coastline
of 1841 also shown as a darker line [Pic Wikipedia Commons]

Since 1841 the Waitemata Harbour has been eaten into and ‘reclaimed’ many times. Point Britomart has long gone,  its fill forming the first great reclamation of 1880,and its name the title of a station and a trendy part of town. Other new  wharves and spaces have been added since, some of them now forming spaces on which to park cars.

The latest might seem like just another increment, but that little bit of land you see on the right-hand top corner of the video above? That’s the North Shore. And it’s a whole lot closer now than it was in 1866 (below). And increment by increment, both sides are getting closer.

Plan of North Shore, 1866
[Auckland City Library, George Grey Special Collections]

Yes, Ports of Auckland “own” the wharves, and all-but own the inner harbour, so on the face of it they do have the right to take more.  But that ownership is the ownership of a government monopoly – no care, and no responsibility.

Daniel Silva of the Importers Institute, who is in favour of the port expansion, makes an important point however (as he so often does):

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.
    They 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.

See, he has a point: as he sees it it’s the old battle between NIMBYism and development.  But to do you see the constraints within which the point makes sense?

The problem is that in New Zealand, these days, we just don’t do massive new infrastructure. Too many taniwhas in the way. So even if the best solution for an expanding port might be a port somewhere that’s able to expand, in a country that still worships at the altar of the Resource Management Act -- offering up occasional sacrifices of developers and entrepreneurs foolish enough to dream dreams and spend their own money on them --  new infrastructure for a new port just isn’t going to happen.

So we’re stuck instead with a politicised battle over an increment-by-increment harbour takeover by a local government monopoly.

Release those constraints however, remove the power of taniwhas and aesthetes, recognise real property rights, and then something more organic might be allowed to happen.

In other words, remove the blinkers.

If only.


  1. 3 questions need to be asked of all Aucklanders about the future of the port.

    1. Do you want the ports of Auckland to expand? (Y/N)
    If the ports do not expand, cargo has to be unloaded at Tauranga (or elsewhere) and freighted to Auckland.
    2. Are you willing to pay more each imported item, particularly food and clothing? (Y/N)
    3. Can you afford an increase of $15 or more per week to your household budget to keep the ports of Auckland as they are? (Y/N)

    If the answers to Q.2 and Q.3 are No, then Q.1 should be asked again to see if the answer changes.
    I'm sure there are many Aucklanders living in suburbs without harbour views that would find the increased costs hard to swallow, just so the harbour view dwellers property values are not disadvantaged.


  2. Hi Jim, Since you seem to have missed a fairly important point I thought I was making ...

    Question 4: Do you want to continue constraining all productive activity in New Zealand on the altar of the RMA? (Y/N)?


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