Napier Port is in good health – but Jones will find regions in need of PGF injections

Shane Jones, in his role as Regional Economic Development Minister, has been showering money around the country so lavishly no-one would have been surprised if he had turned up this week in Parliament wearing Santa Claus’s gear.

The more cynical might argue he is buying (badly needed) votes for NZ First – though that would under-estimate the subtlety the old master Winston Peters brings to the game. The trick is to unlock donations to NZ First’s coffers from grateful industry beneficiaries: it worked a treat with the racing industry.

The problem for Jones in the coming year will be to identify where to place what’s left in the generously endowed – but nevertheless limited – Provincial Growth Fund.

For despite the NZ First narrative that the regions are suffering from economic neglect by the previous government, with many of them on life support, they are in fact doing very nicely, thank you.

You only have to look at the ports which serve those regions and how busy have been for an economic indicator of rude good health.

Take, for example, the port of Napier which this week reported cargo crossing its wharves had hit a new record. That was remarkable, given the previous year an extraordinary amount of cargo came through Napier Port as a result of earthquake damage to Wellington’s port.

CEO Todd Dawson commented that to not only match that figure this year, but to beat it by more than 320,000 tonnes, really shows the pace of growth in Hawke’s Bay.

The statistics tell the story of expanding activity across several industries: forestry, horticulture, and tourism. Log exports lifted 35% to a record 2.2m/t; apple exports exceeded 23,000 TEU containers for the first time; and cruise ships brought a record 103,000 passengers in the 2017-2018 cruise season.

A total of 266,006 containers passed through the port’s container terminal, and the port’s onsite packing operation handled a record 51,126 TEU containers. On the import side fertiliser, cement and oil cargo remained relatively steady. In total the port handled a record 5.1m/t in the 12 months.

With net profit topping $17m on a 5.8% rise in revenue to $91.7m, the port company paid $10m in dividends to its owner, the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council.

As the fourth-largest container operation in the country, Napier Port expects to invest about $350m during the next decade to cater for the region’s growing log, timber and apple exports.

In November, Napier Port was granted resource consent to build a sixth wharf, which will service the container terminal and free up other wharves for the growing log and general cargo trade. It will also allow the cruise ships now turned away from Napier Port to visit the region and enable the port to accommodate larger vessels that are too big for its current facilities.

Other provincial ports, notably Tauranga, but reaching down to Bluff in the south (where the recently opened fourth potline at the Tiwai Point smelter will boost aluminium exports) are just as active as Napier.

But don’t expect Shane to button up his purse. He’s enjoying too much riding to the rescue of those economically depressed regions.

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