Rudman's city: Industry tapping taxpayers for dry dock a tad rich

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Illustration / Peter Bromhead
Illustration / Peter Bromhead

It makes me a bit nervous lining up alongside such luminaries of the right as councillors Cameron Brewer and Dick Quax, but you have to agree with them. Is it the core business of local government to subsidise a dry dock for rich boys' toys?

Council-owned Waterfront Auckland sees Wynyard Quarter as the perfect location for a $45.3 million lift-out facility where the super-rich can raise their gin palaces out of the tide and have the barnacles scrubbed from their bottoms. The boats, that is.

The problem is, the capitalist system that made the boat owners so wealthy has also ordained there's no profit to be had in building and operating such a dry dock.

The private boat builders know the only way they'll make money out of such a facility is to find a sugar daddy who's a sucker for a good yarn. Waterfront Auckland seems to have fallen for it hook, line and sinker, with talk of "strategic investment" and "partnerships" and the mirage that $16.8 million of ratepayers' money invested in the $45.3 million dry dock now, will lead to "a further $90 million of private investment" some time in the never never.

Over 25 years, the superyacht refit business will, we're told, bring in $161 million to the Auckland economy.

Now maybe it will. But if this is likely, then why aren't the banks and the moneybags who covet these playthings, and the boat-builders, rushing in with their chequebooks to reap the rewards?

Is it sheer coincidence that Waterfront Auckland's chairman is former Waitakere City Mayor Bob Harvey? A decade ago, Waitakere City invested $4.6 million to buy and sound-proof the old Enza cool sheds in Henderson Valley to try to create the Hollywood of the Antipodes. Last year, the studio's majority partner, Tony Tay Film, went into liquidation, and another Auckland City company, Auckland Council Properties (ACP), subsequently bought for just $1.5 million the 55.6 per cent majority stake Tony Tay owned. This it added to the 44.4 per cent it had inherited from Waitakere City when it was absorbed into the Super City. ACP chief executive Gary Swift called it "a good investment" at a "significant discount to the value of the underlying asset". As owner of the other "half" of the company, he could have equally bemoaned the collapse in market value of the council's existing shareholding.

Unlike councillors Quax and Brewer, I'm not of their minimalist school when it comes to council investment in infrastructure. I just reckon if ratepayers' money is to be spent, the line between investment and benefit to ratepayers should be direct, not mystical. That's why I see no reason for spending $28.7 million of our money on converting historic Shed 10 on Queens Wharf into an overseas cruise ship terminal.

We're told it's to make Auckland "world class" and to boost tourism business. But the only thing the ordinary ratepayers will get for their money is their newly liberated wharf closed to the public for lengthy periods, and streets overcrowded each time the bus convoys pass by laden with day-trippers bound for Rotorua.

The cruise ship terminal is a tool the tourism industry and the port company require to make more money. It should be funded from within the industry, not subsidised by ratepayers, most of whom will never step aboard such a vessel.

Instead of the city propping up unprofitable business adventures, there are plenty of other projects crying out for funds that have no appeal to private enterprise but will be of direct benefit to all - or groups - of ratepayers. Just the other day came a story that Auckland's 777 community sportsfields are closed more than 20 per cent of the time - more in winter when most needed - because of poor drainage.

The cancellation of organised team sport during the winter months - there are 4666 rugby, soccer and league teams in Auckland - disrupts the plans of thousands of kids each weekend. Accelerating the sanding and other remedial work on these grounds would make Auckland much more "world class" than building a dry dock, in these kids' eyes at least.

Then there's the derisory $0 proposed to maintain our precious volcanoes in the original draft of the Long Term Plan. Imagine what $16.6 million could do for them. And have I mentioned the St James Theatre ...

- NZ Herald

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