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Auckland Council The Auckland Plan

Ports of Auckland

The Port, the waterfront and Tāmaki

Auckland's waterfront has always been a focus for people and trade.

Māori first landed in Aotearoa New Zealand around 1000 years ago. From that time, tribal occupation of Auckland's isthmus was fluid and transitory.

At the northern edge of the isthmus, where the land meets the Waitematā harbour, the most recent rights of ahi kā (traditional occupation) are held by Ngati Whātua.

In 1840 Apihai Te Kawau of Ngati Whātua made 3000 acres (12 square kilometres) available to Governor Hobson in order to strengthen ties between the government and his people following the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi / the Treaty of Waitangi

​Upon securing a new location for his capital, Governor Hobson immediately began development of the waterfront. The first elements of Auckland's port as we see it today were established in the mid-to-late 1800s.

Throughout the latter half of the 19th century, the city of Auckland grew around the early wharves in Commercial Bay and along the waterfront land reclaimed from the Waitematā.

The close proximity of the port to the city centre was important when the city was small and freight mobility was limited.

However, as Auckland has grown, and transport connections have improved, the link between city centre and port has become less critical. 

Competing land uses

In recent decades the city centre has transformed dramatically and the area around the port has become an important commercial and residential centre in its own right.

There are differing stakeholder aspirations for the area leading to tensions between the growth in freight volumes on the one hand, and increasing residential and recreational use of the waterfront on the other.

Between 1989 and 2013, 72 hectares of waterfront land was released for non-port related redevelopment.

Present day port operations now occupy approximately half the land area of the central waterfront. 

This downsizing was partly a result of the efficiency gains brought by increased containerisation, as well as increased pressure from competing commercial, residential and recreational land uses.

​The promise of economic stimulus from hosting international events, such as the Americas Cup, also played a role in the release of port land for alternative uses.

A productive port is critical to Auckland's economy.  Balancing the need to support the port's functions with the aspirations of Aucklanders to reclaim more of their waterfront for commercial, cultural, residential or recreational purposes, will be a key consideration over the next 30 years.

Resolving this tension is vital to the future of the Ports of Auckland. It hinges around three key issues:

  1. Capacity constraints in the port's current location
    The port will always face physical capacity constraints at its current location in terms of land use, berthing requirements and the surrounding transport network. Understanding the potential impacts of these constraints on its ability to meet growing freight and cruise ship demand, and the consequential impact this may have on Auckland's long-term economic growth, is critical to any consideration of the port's future.
  2. Growth of Auckland's city centre
    The port is located on the fringe of the Auckland city centre. Growing residential and commercial activity has underpinned the revival of the city centre over the last 20 years. Inevitably, this will lead to increased competition for limited waterfront land. We need to better understand the trade-offs involved, including the opportunity cost of the underlying port land, if we are to maximise the contribution of both city centre and the port to Auckland's future prosperity.
  3. The environmental, economic and cultural impacts of the port
    The port is a major link in the production supply chain. It supports the economic development of Auckland and New Zealand. Port activities have environmental impacts including noise, light, and other pollution. The port impacts considerably on the marine environment of the Waitematā Harbour, a nationally significant resource of particular value to Māori and mana whenua hapū / iwi. Understanding all of the port's economic, cultural and environmental impacts, and any necessary trade-offs between them, is essential to resolving its future.

Port Future Study

A major Auckland Council-commissioned study on the long-term options for meeting Auckland's need for a working port was completed in July 2016.

The Port Future Study was undertaken by representatives from mana whenua, business, industry and community groups, marine, recreation and heritage associations, environmental organisations, special interest groups and the Ports of Auckland.

The study concluded that the existing port will not be able to accommodate all of Auckland's long-term freight and cruise ship demand on its current footprint.

Its findings and recommendations for a long-term (50 years or longer) strategy for the port included:

  • long-term relocation of the port's freight functions – cruise ships should continue to be accommodated near the city centre however
  • identification of the Manukau Harbour and the Firth of Thames as potential options for the port's new location, subject to more detailed investigation
  • regular monitoring to identify the time at which the port relocation option should be exercised
  • no expansion of the port beyond its current footprint - subject to confirmed and credible commitment to establishing a port relocation option, and to establishing sufficient additional berth length to accommodate expected growth in large cruise and multi-cargo vessels.

The Auckland Plan and the port

Around the world, ports in city centre locations have dealt with similar issues to those we are facing in Auckland today – increased competition from other land uses, growing pressure to relocate and subsequent redevelopment of former port land.

This is played out against a backdrop of growing freight volumes on the one hand versus increased land use efficiency arising from containerisation on the other.

The port's future in terms of location is not yet known, and a definitive answer is likely to be some years away.

Should a decision be made that the port needs to relocate in the future, it will continue operating from its current location for at least another 20 to 25 years.

This is the timeframe required for planning, consenting, and construction of both the port facilities and supporting infrastructure, regardless of where the location may be.

A potential relocation in 20 to 25 years would not have an immediate impact on the direction set in the Auckland Plan in that:

  • the city centre will remain the main business and commercial centre of Auckland
  • it would not change the multi-nodal approach to growth. Depending on location it may actually strengthen this approach
  • it will have transport-related implications, possibly requiring major new transport infrastructure, but it will not completely change Auckland's transport networks.

For these reasons the Auckland Plan does not attempt to predict a future outcome for the port or implications for the waterfront and city centre.

When there is more clarity, updates will be made to the Auckland Plan as required.

Supporting strategies, such as the Waterfront and City Centre masterplans and the Regional Land Transport Plan of the time, will also be updated and will include the detail appropriate for strategies at that level.