Editorial: Moving party central most logical step

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Queens Wharf. Photo / Dean Purcell
Queens Wharf. Photo / Dean Purcell

John Key's "party central" is on the move. That much was apparent yesterday as the Prime Minister considered the Auckland Regional Council's latest, and most ham-fisted, change of direction on the redevelopment of Queens Wharf.

"I'm not going to rule out that we actually move party central somewhere else," Mr Key said. "It would probably ultimately be cheaper." He is right. It would also be to a better location than a bleak, wind-swept quay.

The Prime Minister has good reason to be frustrated and annoyed. A year ago, the Government paid $20 million towards the cost of buying Queens Wharf on the understanding that it could develop a party zone there for next year's rugby World Cup.

While the Auckland Regional Council contributed the same sum, the purchase would not have happened if the Cup had not been on the horizon. The council had its own longer-term plans for the wharf, tied around its development as a public place and cruise-ship terminal.

In April, the pair finally arrived at an acceptable plan: party central would be in a $9.6 million temporary structure, which would be established following the demolition of the wharf's unsightly cargo sheds. Now, the regional council, after consultation with the Historic Places Trust and under pressure from a group of architects, has, with little honour, changed its mind.

It wants the larger of the sheds preserved and converted into a cruise-ship terminal. Most immediately, the shed, with the Government's temporary facility, would serve as a location for party central.

This has all the hallmarks of a committee decision designed to satisfy everybody but pleasing nobody. The sole redeeming feature is that moving the party zone to a new site can advance planning for an inspired final development of Queens Wharf.

A proper facility will not require the ugly shed or sheds now being "saved" under cover of the World Cup urgency. Leave the sheds in place until the real Queens Wharf plan is agreed by the new Auckland Council and its waterfront agency.

Then put the sheds out of their misery. A new permanent cruise terminal will be expensive but that will be tolerated by ratepayers if it isn't seen to be a solution to a sports event.

From the Government's perspective, however, there is the pressing issue of finding a new party location. There are no shortage of options, starting with the Viaduct Harbour, which served as a party place following America's Cup racing.

There is also the Marine Events Centre, which Auckland City is developing for $29 million as part of the Tank Farm project. Some would also favour street parties, with downtown roads closed for peak periods of the Cup.

The most logical alternative, however, is Aotea Square. It should be remembered that just a day before Mr Key outlined plans for his party central at Queens Wharf, an Auckland City Council committee chose Aotea Square for that role.

A total of $26 million has been spent on renovating the area, and the council has looked at buying a giant screen and clearing the area of sculptures and the like to make it more people-friendly.

The lack of co-ordination between the city council and the Government a year ago was a forerunner of events that have plagued the party zone. The Government cannot escape some of the blame for this.

But Mr Key was guilty of understatement when he said that "we've been dealing with a number of moving parts and there hasn't been consistency in the story".

Taking party central away from Queens Wharf is now the most rational step. Selecting the most logical alternative location must be the next. Then should follow a search for a permanent, proud solution for the public's wharf.

- NZ Herald

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