Brian Rudman
Brian Rudman is a Herald columnist looking at Auckland and national issues

Brian Rudman: Sydney's flair for reinvention underlines our own lack of imagination


For those who are baulking at the idea of a Waterfront Development Authority taking over the revival of the downtown waterfront, just take another look at the pictures in yesterday's Herald. Could anyone inflict worse scars on this priceless precinct than our democratically elected politicians and their bureaucrat sidekicks are planning?

To the east, nestling alongside the historic Britomart Quarter, we're to get a ghastly six-storey, 1250-car, concrete parking building. Even ignoring its prime waterfront position, as inappropriateness goes it promises to match the ugliness of the concrete car park bang up against the orange brick of the Victoria Park Markets.

Meanwhile, to the west, the first major building to be unveiled for the Wynyard Quarter rebirth is to be a squat 52m-high headquarters for the ASB Bank, which appears to be topped by a giant, meringue-shaped, seagull dropping.

Coming on the heels of the Queens Wharf fiasco, it's another warning that if we're to realise the 100-year waterfront legacy renewal our leaders keep blathering on about, a revolution is needed. After a long weekend in Sydney, I'm coming to the conclusion it's not just a revolution in governance that's required, but also a huge injection of imagination.

On Monday, I stood on the The Rocks clifftop overlooking the 22ha disused container terminal at East Darling Harbour, Sydney, now renamed Barangaroo. Controversy has resurfaced about the redevelopment plans for this area. But unlike here, where everything is done piecemeal and the vision remains earth-bound, the Sydney controversy is on an epic scale that befits the site.

Unlike here, where the politicians peremptorily abandoned their ill-conceived design contest and offered up doodles of their own creation for consideration, in Sydney it has been a battle which included grand plans by two of the world's legendary architects, Sir Norman Foster and Richard Rogers. The latter won with a centrepiece hotel building immediately dubbed the Dubai Tower by his critics. An enthusiastic Sydney Morning Herald, on the other hand, affectionately nicknamed it "Big Red".

In Auckland, Heart of the City boss Alex Swney and Auckland City Council development committee chairman Aaron Bhatnagar want to stop the proposed ASB HQ because it is too high at 14 storeys. Three years ago, hopeful Super City mayor John Banks drew the line at "five storeys, max".

In Sydney, on the other hand, critics are attacking the landmark, red skeleton hotel building, because at 60 storeys and 230m high it exceeds height limits by 19m.

Maybe 230m is a tad high for the Tank Farm. On the other hand, what's iconic or legacy-making about rows of buildings restricted variously to 27m, 31m or 52m, which is what the Wynyard Quarter grand plan decrees.

In Sydney, the Barangaroo Development Authority has a deadline of 10 to 15 years to complete this $7.8 billion project. Under stage one, Lend Lease, the selected developer will provide more than 430,000sq m of new floor area and 2.6ha of public realm and open spaces. Nearly 1sq km of foreshore will be returned to the people of Sydney.

Auckland's Wynyard Quarter, at 18.5ha, is of comparable size to Barangaroo and, like the Sydney site, needs the single-minded attention a development authority can offer.

My regret is the proposed Auckland model doesn't include the Ports of Auckland land stretching east of Queens Wharf, which, after all, is 100 per cent-owned by the people.

The Auckland Transition Authority's discussion document on council-controlled organisations of Auckland Council talks of "an exciting opportunity to create a new urban suburb from scratch - where modern innovative urban design, town planning and environmental principles and practices link the waterfront to the city in a people-friendly environment".

For years now we've heard similar sentiments from dozens of well-intentioned reports. And year after year we let ourselves down and fail to deliver. No wonder the idea of an independent development authority appeals. In the end, it, too, will fail unless we can inject the members and the political masters in the background with a dose of the imagination and "can-do" confidence Sydneysiders have in spades.

- NZ Herald

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