'Party central' plan draws backlash from pub owners

By Michael Dickison

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Murray McCully says 'party central' will be a reality. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Murray McCully says 'party central' will be a reality. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Auckland's pub owners are fighting back against the Government's plans for a Rugby World Cup party central on Queens Wharf, which they say is a slap in the face and a recipe for disaster.

Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully announced today the Government and the Auckland Regional Council would make party central a reality at Queens Wharf even after the city's mayors rejected plans last week.

But Parnell's The Bog Irish Pub owner Paul Sissons said the plan antagonised the city's pub owners and put the public at risk.

"The whole thing is ill-founded. It's using a whole lot of ratepayers, taxpayers, or anybody's money, and all they're doing is competing with the local pubs."

A planner for party central had come around to his bar asking what he paid staff and where he got security, Mr Sissons said.

Whoever would run party central would poach local staff, and with a temporary three-week liquor licence would have less reason to be responsible, he said.

"We think it's hilarious. The Prime Minister's come up with party central and everyone's on the bandwagon.

"I don't know who'd want to party in a cold, wet marquee in the middle of September and wait in bloody long queues to drink a warm Heineken out of a plastic cup."

Many pub owners were becoming increasingly hostile to the idea, he said.

Local pubs could easily accommodate the influx of visitors, and it would be a boost after a tough financial climate, he said.

Auckland Hospitality Association board member Warren Stewart, a pub owner for 22 years, said it should be a concern that while pubs had years of experience dealing with loud crowds, a party central would have none.

"There's more danger of absolutely turning it into chaos with their lack of leadership."

The Government should provide alcohol-free venues - since it was building in a liquor-ban district anyway - and leave drinkers to the pubs, he said.

Regional council chairman Mike Lee said the party venue would be a modest temporary structure cheaper than any of the designs previously put forward by Mr McCully that were to be paid for by Auckland's city councils.

The site would also get a temporary cruise ship terminal for two ships to be parked permanently during the Cup, Mr Lee said.

"Believe me, it's going to happen ... In 2011 I'm going to be down there on Queens Wharf partying like it's 1999," Mr Lee said.

The wharf was bought by the Government and the regional council last year to become a centrepiece of New Zealand's Rugby World Cup.

Prime Minister John Key announced at the time the site would become "party central".

Mr McCully today said the Government had "reluctantly" stepped in to help pay for the site because the Auckland City Council had refused.

But it looks set to step in again.

Mr Lee said the regional council and the Government would be discussing how they would share the costs for party central after "do-nothing" Auckland mayors decided they would not contribute.

The city council had been expected to pay for buildings on the site before a mayoral forum last week rejected the plans.

Four previous options ranged from a $24 million temporary venue to a $100 million plan that included a $49.2 million cruise ship terminal.

Before that, last year a public competition to come up with a design ended with eight finalists all rejected.

Mr Lee had called those designs "lacklustre, underwhelming and mediocre".

He said today that plans for a permanent cruise ship terminal on Queens Wharf would go forward but more slowly and publicly than it had been.

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