Auck­land’s port is in Win­ston Peters’ fir­ing line.

Auck­lan­ders have a last chance to re­claim their wa­ter­front on September 23.

Metro Magazine NZ - - Contents - TEXT — MATTHEW HOOTON

The Waitem­ata Har­bour and the Auck­land wa­ter­front have an un­likely saviour in Win­ston Peters. The 72-year-old may have had a bit of trou­ble fill­ing in his su­per­an­nu­a­tion forms but that is un­likely to worry his core sup­port­ers and he re­mains set to again choose be­tween Na­tional and Labour for gov­ern­ment.

Peters is per­ceived in Auck­land as the cham­pion of the prov­inces. His iwi af­fil­i­a­tion is Ngati Wai, whose rohe lies roughly along the east coast from Omaha to the Bay of Is­lands. He first stood for Par­lia­ment in 1975 for Na­tional in North­ern Maori. While he claimed for 21 years to have no higher am­bi­tion than to be the MP for Tau­ranga, his real source of pride is to have fi­nally be­come MP in the gen­eral elec­torate of North­land.

But this is not all there is to Peters. Since 2014, he has lived in Whananaki and was on the North­land roll be­fore his by-elec­tion win there in 2015. But he also qual­i­fies as an age­ing in­ner-city Auck­land hip­ster (Se­ri­ously? — Ed.) with a house in no less than St Marys Bay, just around the cor­ner from the Pon­sonby strip and with a splen­did view of the Waitem­ata.

This un­usual com­bi­na­tion gives Peters a unique per­spec­tive on the most strate­gi­cally im­por­tant de­ci­sion for the fu­ture of Auck­land: the pro­gres­sive clo­sure of the con­tainer and used-car port in the cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict; the re­moval of the as­so­ci­ated traf­fic from the South­ern Mo­tor­way, Grafton Gully and Quay St; and the re­turn of the Waitem­ata wa­ter­front to the peo­ple of the city.

Top of the agenda for coali­tion ne­go­ti­a­tions in late September will be Peters’ plan for Ports of Auck­land and North­port, including new rail links be­tween Auck­land and Whangarei, which he has al­ready de­scribed as a bot­tom line so solid that Na­tional and Labour would be wise not even to try dis­cussing it be­fore agree­ing. Peters will also in­sist that any gov­ern­ment he sup­ports must force the pro­gres­sive clo­sure of the Auck­land port’s con­tainer and used-car op­er­a­tions while com­mis­sion­ing a much-needed world­class cruise-liner ter­mi­nal there.

The im­me­di­ate pri­or­ity will be to have Cap­tain Cook Wharf — cur­rently used for sec­ond-hand car im­ports — freed up for the Amer­ica’s Cup de­fence. Peters then plans to have the gov­ern­ment work with Auck­land Coun­cil and the com­mu­nity to de­velop a mas­ter­plan for what should hap­pen with the rest of the 77 hectares on which the port stands. We shouldn’t leap to con­clu­sions that that will cer­tainly in­clude plans for a na­tional sports sta­dium, a na­tional art gallery or other iconic struc­tures, but those sorts of ideas will fi­nally be­come pos­si­ble if Auck­lan­ders want them. Much of the land should, of course, be kept as pub­lic space, as in Welling­ton.

Peters’ plan is not ex­clu­sively about Auck­land. He will de­mand the gov­ern­ment and Auck­land Coun­cil stop wast­ing tax­pay­ers’ and ratepay­ers’ money study­ing the fan­tasy of a new Firth of Thames mega-port, a pro­posal which is surely sup­ported only by the dredg­ing in­dus­try. Peters will in­sist that North­port at Mars­den Pt is the site of the North Is­land’s mega-port for the rest of the 21st cen­tury and be­yond. There is around 300 hectares ad­ja­cent to North­port’s ex­ist­ing oper­a­tion that could be used for the con­tainer and used-car stor­age fa­cil­i­ties cur­rently in Auck­land’s CBD and for ma­jor dis­tri­bu­tion cen­tres for both im­porters and ex­porters. Peters is also talk­ing about turn­ing the area into a Special Eco­nomic Area along the lines of those in Sin­ga­pore, Malaysia, China and the United States. The idea is to cre­ate jobs in Whangarei to help ad­dress North­land’s shock­ing so­cial sta­tis­tics and for Peters, af­ter a life­time in Par­lia­ment, to fi­nally de­liver back to the re­gion he came from.

There is noth­ing par­tic­u­larly rad­i­cal about any of this. Peters’ plan is broadly the same as that pri­vately sup­ported by John Key, whose gov­ern­ment was too vi­sion­less and lazy to make it hap­pen. There is no rea­son Bill English shouldn’t ac­cept Peters’ de­mands, es­pe­cially as the NZ First leader is also talk­ing about a sim­i­lar con­cept for South­port less than 100km from English’s orig­i­nal home­town of Dip­ton. For her part, Jacinda Ardern was a strong op­po­nent of fur­ther ex­pan­sion of the CBD port when stand­ing un­suc­cess­fully against Nikki Kaye in Auck­land Cen­tral. Kaye, now more se­nior than ever in the Na­tional Party, also backs open­ing up the Auck­land wa­ter­front.

The stars will never be as aligned as they are now to fi­nally sort out the Auck­land port is­sue in a way that will also ben­e­fit the peo­ple of North­land. With the port com­pany try­ing to per­ma­nently lock it­self into its cur­rent lo­ca­tion with its re­struc­ture plans that a gorm­less Auck­land mayor seems ready to en­dorse, 2017 may not only be the best op­por­tu­nity for change, but the very last. Those ur­ban lib­er­als who are most pas­sion­ate about the port mov­ing on, freeing up the wa­ter­front and re­mov­ing con­tainer trucks from Auck­land roads may find them­selves in the un­ex­pected po­si­tion of need­ing to vote not for Ardern or English, but for the man from Ngati Wai.

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