Brown slams Ports of Auckland in letter outlining expectations

The Ports of Auckland.

The Ports of Auckland Board is to meet following a letter sent from mayor Wayne Brown today seeking the entity to address a raft of issues.

Brown wrote to Jan Dawson, chairperson of Ports of Auckland Ltd (POAL), outlining his medium and short-term expectations for the Council-owned company.

“As I am sure you are aware, Ports of Auckland Limited (POAL) has not been serving Aucklanders well,” the letter began.

“It has not operated as a successful business in recent years. Its financial return to ratepayers has been paltry given the value of the council’s capital investment. Its workers have tragically died on the job. It recently wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on a botched automation project.

“It has stubbornly refused to make better use of the large tract of prime waterfront space it occupies to the exclusion of Aucklanders. It is a major source of congestion and road maintenance costs in the Auckland CBD and wider region. It prevents Aucklanders from fully enjoying the Waitematā harbour.

“I acknowledge your commitment, and that of your board, to lifting the performance of the company. I thank you for the work you have undertaken so far, in line with your Statement of Corporate Intent.” Brown wrote.

But, he said Aucklanders had told him they expect the new council to act more decisively to turn around the port and to stop the prevarication on its future, and that he was elected with a clear mandate to deliver that.

Brown has asked POAL to take immediate steps to achieve a more efficient use of port land and make more of it available for the public, specifically – the land at Bledisloe Wharf which is currently used for the importation of used cars.

“There is no one who voted for me who should have been unaware of my view that car importation and container services should cease at the current site,” Brown said.

Brown also tasked POAL to move “as quickly as possible” to a 100% rail solution to reduce congestion and lower carbon emissions.

He has asked for POAL and Ngāti Whātua Orakei, in its role as mana whenua, to agree and report to him on a plan towards these objectives by 31 March 2023.

Brown has also asked for monthly reports on POAL’s progress to improve its previously “appalling safety record” and on its ongoing industrial relations as a good employer.

Looking further ahead, Brown has asked for POAL’s advice on “rigorous additional benchmarks for return on capital based on valuing the port land at its highest and best use”.

Currently POAL reports quarterly on its productivity compared only to other comparable New Zealand ports.

Brown said he plans to raise the future of POAL when he meets with Jacinda Ardern on Thursday.

Head of Communications for Ports of Auckland, Julie Wagener acknowledged the receipt of the letter and said the Board will be reviewing it this week ahead of a council briefing next month.

The port has come under fire in recent months after a review found it prioritised productivity over safety amid a spate of deaths on site. Two people died in one week in April this year, prompting further calls for tightened safety regulations.

In June this year POAL scrapped its long-awaited $65 million container automation project after years of delays. Outgoing Auckland Mayor Phil Goff ordered a review into the project which found that management, governance, and other key factors were poor.