Shane Jones: Northland port could be economic haven

Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones is breathing new life into the proposal to move Auckland's port to Whangārei to help in the economic recovery post Covid-19 pandemic.

If New Zealand First was returned in the September general election, Minister Jones said a priority would be development of an "economic haven" at Northport, noting the UK's plan to introduce "freeports" in its own economic recovery efforts.

Minister Jones, who is also Regional Economic Development Minister and a Northland-based List MP for NZ First, said he and Party Leader Winston Peters, Deputy Prime Minister and fellow Northlander, have lost none of their enthusiasm for developing Northport to take on Auckland's cargo operations, and for shifting Devonport's ship dry dock there and upscaling it.

Mr Jones said moving the dry dock north assumed new importance given uncertainty over the future of the Marsden Point oil refinery in New Zealand.

Owner Refining NZ is reviewing its operation. The Minister is presuming one of the outcomes could be the end of oil refining in New Zealand, meaning all the country's fuel needs would be imported.

"This would have an inordinate impact on employment in Northland and without something as profound as the [drydock] infrastructure development I would have thought thousands will either be made redundant or subsequently out of work, such is the huge enabling effect of the refinery," Minister Jones said.

"It drives the imperative of an Auckland port relocation and the Babcock [dry dock] proposal."

The dry dock at Devonport has been leased to Babcock Australasia, part of the global aerospace and defence company Babcock, or its legacy companies, since 1994.

The Defence-owned Devonport dry dock is too small to service and hull-clean many modern vessels including the Cook Strait KiwiRail ferries, new navy vessels, and fuel and cement ships. Hull cleaning can be a biosecurity requirement.

The Minister said he had been advised by Refining NZ the review would take into account the potential tax costs of New Zealand's climate change legislation.

He said he was promoting the dry dock redevelopment as a potential "shovel-ready" infrastructure project to help accelerate economic recovery.

Minister Jones said NZ First would continue to agitate for relocation of Auckland port's cargo operations to Northport: "But today it is not Government policy - it is marooned in an analytical process in the Ministry of Transport."

He said any heavy marine migration north should include the New Zealand Navy base at Devonport.

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