Cecilia Robinson: Enough talk. It’s time to move the Auckland port

OPINION:

This week the 36th America’s Cup starts and the jewel of Auckland, the Waitemata Harbour, will be on full display.

And while Auckland’s volcanic cones, Rangitoto Island and Sky Tower will form an impressive backdrop, the view is diminished by the cranes, containers and cargo ships that make up the port.

Despite Auckland having one of the most incredible natural harbours in the world, the port sits starkly as an industrial eyesore on our waterfront. It needs to move.

I know this argument isn’t new. In fact, this debate has been happening for well over a decade. Yet, nothing has happened.

You see, the problem with Government, whether it be central or local, is that it can’t make a difficult decision.

Politicians are too busy worrying about their own jobs and trying to please all the people all of the time, they become too scared to do something bold.

And there are too many self-interested groups pushing their own do-nothing agenda or shouting down progress without offering solutions.

That is why we fall into an endless cycle of working groups and studies that only give the impression something is happening, when actually very little is.

In the past 20 years, there have been no fewer than nine official reports looking at relocating the port, and yet we seem to be no closer to making a decision.

Worse, each of these reports has cost the taxpayer and ratepayer millions and millions of dollars. Money that could actually be used to move the port.

We have now had 20 years of wasted opportunity, and if we are not careful, we will still be debating the issue in another 20 years.

In fact, I’m almost certain we will be.

The port debate perfectly illustrates why New Zealand struggles with infrastructure development.

Unfortunately, we are very good at talking about an issue, highlighting the problems, but terrible at implementing a solution.

This is why Auckland is creaking under the weight of its own growth.Why our motorways are clogged, why we have inadequate water and wastewater infrastructure, a housing supply crisis and a public transport system that is always trying to play catch-up.

As a country, our political system is terrible at forward planning and delivering. This needs to change.

Let’s be clear, Auckland cannot be a world-class city while a large part of its most valuable land is stuck behind an iron fence.

The port sits on land that we should all be enjoying. Instead, we have a giant car park full of imported vehicles and a massive container depot.

We know the status quo is untenable. Doing nothing is simply not an option.

Already, the port can’t handle the bigger ships that need to sail into New Zealand in the coming decade to deliver goods we need.

So, let’s be bold and make the decision now that the current location is no longer an option, the port is moving and that it will be closing in 10 years.

With that decision made, we can reshape the conversation and focus quickly on where the new port will be and what supporting infrastructure is required.

Surely the previous nine reports provide enough information for this decision to be made relatively quickly.

Don’t tell me it can’t be done, because it has been done in other parts of the world.

We just need to look across the Tasman to Sydney, which moved its commercial port from the inner-city Darling Harbour to Port Botany in the south in the 1980s.

Why did they do this? Because they rightly decided that waterfront land in the middle of the city should be accessible and enjoyed by the public

Today, Darling Harbour is one of Sydney’s tourist hotspots adjacent to the central business district. It is where Sydneysiders go to play and helps makes the harbour into the city.

The redevelopment of Darling Harbour showcases what can be achieved with a commitment to urban renewal and a focus on creating recreational and pedestrian precincts.

We can do the same by redeveloping the port. We just need to have the vision and commitment.

Imagine replicating the Viaduct Harbour and Wynyard Quarter on the other side of the CBD.

We could open-up 55ha of prime waterfront land for new parkland, residential and commercial activities and create a new entertainment hub to rival anywhere in the world.

We could finally shift Eden Park out of suburbia and create a new national stadium to host major international events.

And we can remove the huge number of trucks from our inner urban motorway.

I don’t pretend this isn’t a complex and difficult decision, but for too long this has been used as an excuse for doing nothing.

We need our leaders to be making decisions that will help Auckland to be a thriving, resilient and prosperous world-class city.

Whether it’s shifting the port, constructing light rail, building a second harbour crossing or building more water shortage, we need to stop writing reports and start delivering.

– Cecilia Robinson is an entrepreneur, currently working as the founder and co-chief executive of healthcare start-up Tend.

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