Location, Location, Location

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 27 March 2015
Republished on interest.co.nz (Auckland), 27 March 2015

auckland-harbourAmong the most sought after locations you find in Sydney is the inner-city suburb of Pyrmont. It is not only home to headquarters of major companies such as American Express, Accenture, Vodafone, and Google. It has also become a major media hub with Fairfax, Seven West Media, and several radio stations all operating in the area.

Pyrmont is among the priciest suburbs in the whole of Sydney to buy an apartment. Besides, at 13,850 residents per square kilometre it is the most densely populated suburb in all of Australia.

Nobody would have seen Pyrmont’s rise coming 25 years ago. Back then, its population had dropped to under 1,000 people. The relocation of port activities from inner-city Pyrmont to the deep-water seaport located in Botany Bay had hit the area hard. But then Sydney discovered that a much better use of this conveniently located inner city area was not as a port facility but as a mixture of residential development and a hub for high-value add, white collar industries.

In case you are not already guessing why I am waxing lyrical about Pyrmont’s stunning regeneration, I am puzzled by plans to extend the inner-city Port of Auckland.

Looking over the harbour from any of the CBD’s skyscrapers makes you wonder whether having a port in the middle of Auckland is really the best possible use of land. Or more to the point, whether having a giant car park filled with Japanese used vehicles makes much sense just 500 metres away from busy Queen Street.

I readily admit that I find the whole discussion about the Auckland port expansion rather odd. Not just for aesthetic reasons. Auckland is blessed with a stunning natural harbour. Why on earth you would spoil it by having container shipping, car parks and the like in the centre of the city is beyond me.

From an economics perspective, I also wonder whether this inner city land might not yield more value if put to different uses. The example of Pyrmont seems to suggest that close proximity to the CBD and a harbour location is a draw card for businesses and residents alike. Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour area already demonstrates this. A port, meanwhile, could be anywhere provided it is well connected by road and rail.

I am not from Auckland, nor can I claim to be an expert on port operations, but I cannot help but wonder whether instead of talking about an extension of the port we should be talking about an entirely different question: Is the Port of Auckland really in the right spot?