Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Mayors' message to Wellington clear

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John Banks. Photo / Herald on Sunday
John Banks. Photo / Herald on Sunday

The fractured nature of Auckland governance saved us from being bulldozed into a quick decision on the Labour government's madcap waterfront stadium project. Now it's come to the rescue again, providing a brake on any kneejerk support for John Key's plans for a Rugby World Cup "party central."

It makes you wonder what's going to save us from government strong-arming once we're a lean and mean Super City led by a single mayor.

While Friday's consensus decision by the seven mayors not to support ratepayer funds going into a rushed development of Queens Wharf has no legal authority without a vote by each council, there's little doubt the mayors have wide community backing.

They have given Wellington a simple warning. If you want to party on Queens Wharf next winter, that's over to you. But don't expect ratepayers to pay.

Defending the decision, Auckland City Mayor John Banks said the whole of Auckland City would be party central, not just one wind-swept wharf. Aotea Square, Ponsonby Rd, Parnell Rd and the Viaduct Harbour were obvious party hotspots.

The Prime Minister will be at the Tank Farm this Friday to lead the celebrations marking a new stage of development around North Wharf. This is alongside the Marine Events Centre, being developed for $29 million by Auckland City. As Mr Banks pointed out, this, too, will be a great place for Cup crowds to party in.

The mayor also warned of the bleak weather to be expected when the rugby tournament will take place.

I checked the climatic records back in June, when Mr Key first proposed the exposed Queens Wharf venue, and Mr Banks is not exaggerating. The rugby begins on September 9, 2011, and the final match is October 23. National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research records show that in the 30 years to 2000, it rained on average 14 days in September and 12 in October. The monthly mean temperatures were 12.6C and 14.1C respectively. September to December is Auckland's windiest period.

Yet even the most expensive, $100 million proposal for the wharf included outdoor screens and a large, elevated roofed venue which, like Auckland's notoriously leaky and draughty new bus shelters, has wide openings between the walls and roof.

In a letter presented to the mayoral forum on Friday, Rugby World Cup Murray McCully said the practical choices were either to proceed with the $100 million option, which included a cruise-ship terminal, or with a "scaled-down" version of the cheapest party central option, the $23.9 million proposal which would entail removing the old wharf sheds.

Mr McCully noted the public had sent "a very clear message that the temporary options are all outrageously expensive for non-permanent structures ..."

This message will only have been reinforced by last week's story that the cruise-ship industry would be happy with a basic terminal in the $6 million to $10 million range.

The message from the region's mayors was clear. While they were supportive of a new cruise-ship terminal, they wanted time for them - and ratepayers - to mull the options.

As for party central, they were not even prepared to pay for Mr McCully's pared-down version. Spending any ratepayers' money on a temporary structure for an event of just a few short weeks was unacceptable, particularly when existing alternative central-city venues abound.

Obviously angry, Prime Minister Key issued a statement recording his disappointment at "the continued inability of the elected mayors across the Auckland region to agree on a sensible way forward." He insisted that Queens Wharf "is the right place to host party central ... and the right place for a cruise-ship terminal".

What Mr Key seems to forget is that the mayors are, as he points out, "elected" representatives of Auckland ratepayers. What's more, they have agreed, unanimously, "on a sensible way forward." It is to reject the PM's party central brainwave and to take time out on the cruise-ship terminal idea.

Auckland has spoken with as close to a united voice as could be hoped for. (Only ARC chair Mike Lee disagreed.) The government should respect this and be pleased we're working as one.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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