The Government is poised to make a big call on whether to move Auckland's port to the economically deprived region of Northland.
Two major reports are landing on ministers' desks for decisions on moving Ports of Auckland's business to Northland and upgrading rail to the north for freight services.
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters gave a "cast-iron commitment" in 2017 to move Ports of Auckland if his party was in a position of influence after the election. "The days of the Ports of Auckland as a container port and as a car yard are numbered. "Aucklanders want their harbour back while Northlanders want the jobs and opportunity that would come from Northport's transformation," Peters said at th time.
The coalition agreement with Labour led to a study on the three Upper North Island ports with a focus on moving Ports of Auckland to Northport at Marsden Pt.
An interim report on that study by a working group headed by Wayne Brown, a former Far North mayor, had been provided to ministers and was due to go to cabinet shortly.
Ministers were due to receive a business case next month from the Ministry of Transport for upgrading the North Auckland line, including a spur line from Oakleigh to Northport.
The business case also examineed the potential for tourism services in Northland and passenger rail. This could allow Auckland commuter services to extend beyond Swanson to Kumeu/Huapai and Helensville.
Rodney Local Board deputy chairman Phelan Pirrie said a proposal to extend rail services to Huapai and Helensville died due to the high cost, but that could change if the Government is serious about upgrading the rail line that runs through West Auckland to Northland.
Whangarei District Council Mayor Sheryl Mai is keen on improved rail services to Northland as part of an integrated transport strategy. "The spur to the port could be a key to unlock the potential of New Zealand's best natural deep water port. Hopefully an upgraded rail line will also, in the long term, provide the option for superb passenger transport into and out of the region," Mai said.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said he was aware of the reports going to ministers and cautioned on any decision to move the port, which is 100 per cent owned by council and delivers a dividend of more than $50 million a year. Any decisions on the future of Ports of Auckland should have the agreement of council and backed up with a strong business case taking into account the cost of new infrastructure and the cost impact of goods reaching Auckland, he said. "We accept that at some point the growth of freight into Auckland will outgrow the land available for the Port. We understand also that moving the Port will free up access to the foreshore and some valuable land that can be used to meet the needs of Aucklanders in other ways. "However, the Port is also a critical lifeline of freight into our city which is vital to our social and economic well-being, The decision needs to take into account the city, the region and the country's best interests," Goff said.
A Ports of Auckland spokesman said any decision on the location of the port was a matter for Auckland Council, "we have no comment".
The situation in Northland follows news the business case for Auckland's $6 billion light rail programme is making slow progress.
Light rail, of modern-day trams, were promised by Labour to run from the CBD to the airport and the CBD to West Auckland within 10 years.
However, the business case for light rail to the airport was running months late and investigations for the CBD to West Auckland line "are at a very early stage" according to the New Zealand Transport Agency.
This has prompted the Public Transport Users Association and NZ Transport 2050 to renew calls for the Government to ditch the "slow tram plan" and consider rail from the CBD to the airport.
"Our proposal can be delivered faster than the tram. It will cost significantly less to build," said NZ Transport 2050's Paul Miller.
Auckland councillor Mike Lee, a senior figure in Auckland's rail renaissance, said the pride and ego of Twyford and Goff was preventing them from admitting light rail was on the wrong track. "The red for danger warning lights are flashing, but Twyford and Goff press on," he said.
Regional Development Minister Shane Jones, who told the Herald in November 2017 "upgrading rail and a spur to Northport, it is simply going to happen", could not be reached for comment yesterday.