The Prime Minister's dream of turning Queens Wharf into "party central" for the Rugby World Cup is in tatters following a political impasse between the Government and the Auckland Regional Council over the redevelopment plans.
Time is running out for the two parties to patch up their differences and Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully has warned that there is a "real prospect" the Cup deadline will not be met.
Since John Key announced plans for party central in June last year, his vision of "a mass public opening ceremony and the magnet for fans who can't be at games" has been a planning and political shambles.
Yesterday, the project took another turn when ARC councillors unanimously agreed to begin urgent architectural work on preserving the larger of the two cargo sheds on the wharf at a cost of $17.8 million.
This is different from an agreement between the ARC and the Government in April to remove both sheds and build a temporary structure costing $9.6 million, named the "cloud" by Mr McCully and the "slug" by others.
Both options include an extra $9.8 million for strengthening and landscaping of the wharf.
Since April, the ARC and the Historic Places Trust have reached a provisional agreement to convert Shed 10 into a permanent cruise ship terminal and party central, alongside the temporary structure. The smaller Shed 11 will be moved, ideally to another maritime site.
In a stern letter to ARC chairman Mike Lee on Tuesday, Mr McCully said senior ministers remained committed to building the temporary structure and saw no merit in redeveloping Shed 10 where it was.
"We also see considerable risk in embarking on a restoration of Shed 10, with the attendant risks of cost escalation and timetable blowout."
Mr McCully gave the ARC two ultimatums for changing its mind. First, restore Shed 10 off-site or on another part of Queens Wharf. Or, second, buy the Government's $20 million half-share of the purchase price of the wharf and take full responsibility for all the building, landscape and other costs to prepare the wharf in time for the Cup.
He also demanded the ARC provide an undertaking from Auckland mayors to reverse an earlier decision that no permanent development proceed on Queens Wharf before the Super City comes into being.
Mr McCully's demands for moving Shed 10 are not acceptable to the regional council; nor does it have the money to buy out the Government and pay all the redevelopment costs.
In a statement issued after the council meeting, Mr McCully, who is in Tonga, said he was comfortable with the ARC exploring options for moving and protecting Shed 10 at its cost but insisted nothing would put at risk facilities for the Cup.
Last night, Mr Lee said Mr McCully misunderstood the ARC position, which was to not move Shed 10. It was built on piles and could fall through the wharf if an attempt was made to move it, he said.
"Moving Shed 10 is his idea. If anything is going to be moveable, it is the temporary building. That would be more logical," Mr Lee said.
Councillor Joel Cayford said the ARC needed to work with the "devil more on the side with this than the minister", a reference to the Auckland City Council, which has $24 million set aside for restoring the two cargo sheds.
Auckland City Mayor John Banks said his position on the restoration of Queens Wharf had not changed, but he did not want to get involved at this stage.
"The future of Queens Wharf is in the hands of the owners, the Government and the Auckland Regional Council," he said.
Mr Lee expects to hold talks on the Queens Wharf project with Mr Key when they both attend New Zealand Day at the Shanghai Expo in China tomorrow.
JOHN KEY'S NIGHTMARE
"This will be party central"
- John Key, June 2009
Design competition canned for lacking 'wow' factor
$100 million new cruise ship terminal rejected by Auckland mayors
$9.6 million temporary alternative unveiled - dubbed the 'slug'
Political impasse over the 'slug' and heritage options
Temporary structure - $9.6m
Shed 10 upgrade - $17.8m
Temporary structure - $9.8m
Shed 10 upgrade - $9.8m
Temporary structure - $19.4m
Shed 10 upgrade - $27.6m