$3 billion balancing act

SET TO GO: Northgate Business Park project manager Graeme Lee says the newly announced freight hub is ready for business.
SET TO GO: Northgate Business Park project manager Graeme Lee says the newly announced freight hub is ready for business.

A Government board of inquiry today begins hearings on a plan which has the potential to transform Hamilton and create thousands of jobs.

Tainui Group Holdings is looking for approval to fast-track its massive $3 billion freight hub, to the east of Hamilton.

The Government's Environment Protection Agency will adjudicate on the proposal in a hearing set down to last a month at Hamilton's Kingsgate Hotel. Approval would be a massive step forward for the Ruakura development.

Tainui’s grand vision to cash in on the Waikato’s growth in freight volume is about to be tested.
Tainui’s grand vision to cash in on the Waikato’s growth in freight volume is about to be tested.

The ambitious project, which includes commercial and housing areas and covers 500 hectares, is predicted to create up to 12,000 jobs during its 50-year lifespan.

The freight hub at the heart of the plan is predicted to move the equivalent of 1 million 6-metre shipping containers each year.

But not everyone is happy: some neighbouring residents are worried about heavy traffic and noise, and the prospect that a potential eyesore so close could affect property values. There are also concerns about biosecurity risks.

The plan change, lodged with the EPA in June, would enable TGH and business partner Chedworth Properties to get on with applying for resource consents without having to wait for Hamilton City Council's Proposed District Plan to be completed.

The land involved was formerly owned by Waikato District and, when it passed over to Hamilton, TGH and Chedworth Properties found themselves stymied by a rule prohibiting any urban development.

They wanted to remove the rule so they could apply for consents but the move was rejected last April by Hamilton City councillors in a 7-to-5 vote.

TGH and CPL considered the project to be of national significance and appealed the decision to the Environment Protection Agency. Environment Minister Amy Adams appointed Environment Commissioner Jim Hodges, Jenny Hudson, and Gerry Te Kapa Coates to the board of inquiry and Judge Melanie Harland as chair.

TGH says the project will complete the golden triangle between the Ports of Auckland and Tauranga.

It bases its confidence on reports such as a Ministry of Transport study which shows Waikato's 25 per cent share of national freight movements is tipped to rise sharply by 2031. Freight volume between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga is forecast to double over the next 20 years.

Northgate gets in first with smaller freight hub plan

As Tainui Group Holdings pushes to fast-track its $3 billion freight hub, another business a few kilometres to the north has stolen a march on them - albeit on a smaller scale.

Northgate Business Park has announced a fully consented $100 million freight hub.

Northgate already has 14 hectares developed and available for industrial use.

It has another 10 ha available, and could "start work tomorrow" on a 30 to 50 hectare freight hub should the demand come arise.

All up, Northgate covers 109ha at Horotiu, about 8km north of Te Rapa. The main trunk railway line runs through it, and it borders the new Waikato Expressway. It has permission from KiwiRail to join up to the main trunk line.

The hub will include park space around streams and gullies, with that land to be given back to Waikato District Council after restoration is complete.

Northgate Business Park project manager Graeme Lee said the hub was a response to interest from businesses looking to set up at Northgate.

"We've had a number of transport operators wanting to have a facility where they can get onto the rail and send their products wherever, so that's what's driven us to do it," he said.

All consents, including stormwater, wastewater, discharges to air, earthworks and roading structure plans were signed off. "We can just go. We could go tomorrow if need be."

Northgate Business Park has been open for 12 months, and one lot of about 15 now available has been sold to Waikato Milking Systems.

Lee said discussions were under way with five other businesses, two of which were "well advanced".

Northgate is in discussions with two line haul and distribution companies and Lee said he expected them to be on board within the next four months.

Work would start on the intermodal freight hub in the 2016-2017 construction season "if it goes well, and it's completely related to the market and the uptake and that sort of thing", he said.

Lee said he didn't see Tainui's $3 billion inland port as competition, and it was purely coincidental that the Northgate announcement came when TGH was about to head to court to try for its consents.

"We're used to people doing similar things to what we do. The difference is that we're consented and able to go."

TGH chief executive Mike Pohio said he was not aware of the plans at Northgate until informed by the Waikato Times.

However, he said he was not surprised. "For the scale of the property and its proximity to the interchange it's not surprising.

"Waikato is very well-positioned within the golden triangle for that flow of freight."

Pohio said the TGH offering focused more on the "next 20 to 50 years rather than the next two or five".

During that time there would be enough freight to go around each of the three freight hubs, he said.

Mainfreight is developing a $30m base on the corner of Ruffell Rd and Arthur Porter Dr, beside the main railway line.

Waikato Times