I was at the community meeting this week when the ‘good news’ letter from Napier Port was read to a strong turnout of Whakatu residents.
For months the community has been up in arms against the Port.
The community contends it was blind-sided by a project that avoided due process and threatens their health, safety and overall community well-being.
The Port, facing looming physical capacity constraints at the docks – limiting anticipated trade growth – says they had ‘played by the rules’ in selecting the Whakatu site to store containers and cargo.
The letter from Port chair Alasdair MacLeod and chief executive Todd Dawson announced: “Napier Port has made the decision to formally decline the government’s offer to provide funding for the development of an inland port project in Whakatu. We remain firmly committed to building this vital piece of infrastructure in Whakatu, however we have now shifted our timeframe for commencement of this project back out to a 5-10 year timeline.”
In short, a reprieve – not a victory – for the Whakatu community.
As the letter added: “We will look to advance the project when it makes both operational and commercial sense for Napier Port in the future.”
Troy has been served notice … the ships of Athens will be coming.
Still, there was a winning mood in the air at the meeting.
The community had warded off the initial ‘surprise assault’ and now had time to more carefully consider its options – whether that means seeking ways to still block the project entirely (as on resident noted: “Who knows what the state of global shipping might be 5 or 10 years from now?) or developing the most compelling case for the mitigation measures and compensation they want for the injury they might endure.
Prudently, the Port has offered to fund an independent advisor selected by the community to help residents plot a path forward. The Port noted that planned Community and Cultural Impact Assessments should proceed. They wrote: “We hope the slowing down of the inland port project will provide some valuable breathing space for the development of a more positive partnership between Napier Port and the Whakatu community.”
For its part, the community decided to establish a formal Community Trust to better prepare its path forward on the inland port and other issues facing Whakatu. As another resident observed, whether they meant to or not, “the Port has brought us together”.