Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Rugby World Cup party gatecrashers

Chaotic scenes occurred on the waterfront in Auckland when 200,000 people poured into the city for the opening night of the Rugby World Cup celebrations. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Chaotic scenes occurred on the waterfront in Auckland when 200,000 people poured into the city for the opening night of the Rugby World Cup celebrations. Photo / Sarah Ivey

The Government has seized control of Party Central on Queens Wharf - and will extend the fan zone along Auckland's waterfront to try to avoid more Rugby World Cup crowd chaos.

The takeover came as a huge surprise to Auckland city leaders and threatens to cause a political storm.

Under it, a closed-off Quay St and the neighbouring Captain Cook Wharf will be ready for use as an expanded fan zone by this weekend.

The changes will be ready for a Friday evening concert by Che Fu on the main stage at Queens Wharf before the live telecast of the All Blacks' match against Japan in Hamilton.

Part of Bledisloe Wharf could also be used later in the tournament.

After four years of intensive planning under the leadership of Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully, the Government has enacted emergency measures only four days into the tournament.

Yesterday, Mr McCully accepted final responsibility for the event, but said the Government was expanding Party Central after Auckland authorities "dropped the ball" last Friday.

"The whole objective of the Rugby World Cup is to present Auckland as an international city to visitors and the visiting media, and it is very disappointing that in two respects that challenge wasn't met," he said.

Chaotic scenes occurred on the waterfront when 200,000 people poured into the city for the opening night celebrations and a public transport meltdown spilled over to Britomart.

Cup organisers had been expecting up to 150,000 people at the waterfront, although they were publicly talking about a crowd of 50,000.

Les Galler, an intensive care specialist at Auckland City Hospital, said in a letter to the Herald yesterday that Friday's opening night celebrations could easily have turned to tragedy because of the huge crowds, cramped conditions and limited access and escape routes.

Auckland City Hospital was so overloaded with drunk and injured revellers on Friday that ambulances had to take patients to other hospitals.

Mr McCully's announcement came as a huge surprise to Auckland Mayor Len Brown, who was not briefed beforehand.

But at a hastily-organised press conference, Mr Brown - less than a year into the job as the first Super City mayor - said although the announcement could have been handled better, he wanted to keep working with the Government to ensure an outstanding Rugby World Cup.

Auckland councillor Mike Lee said Mr McCully's posturing and grandstanding was aimed at humiliating Mr Brown, the Auckland Council and Aucklanders. The move to "nationalise" Party Central was an overreaction.

Mr Lee blamed problems with the organisation and design of fan zones on the Super City reforms enacted in November last year.

These gave unelected officials at the council-controlled organisation Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development responsibility for the waterfront, he said.

"They created the Super City, not Auckland, and if it's not working to their liking then they should have a look at themselves."

Government officials have been working with Auckland officials, including Queens Wharf officials since the weekend on increasing the capacity of Party Central to prevent a repeat of Friday's overflow. Queens Wharf is limited to 12,000 people.

Mr McCully said he formally asked officials on Monday to make an application under Rugby World Cup empowering legislation for the necessary consents to expand Party Central, and he expected them to pass a fast-track process by today.

The consents will allow part of Quay St to be closed to traffic.

Mr McCully said the cost of expanding Party Central was being worked on, but the Government would contribute to them.

Plans to extend Party Central changed throughout the day yesterday.

Ports of Auckland was contacted for the first time at 7.15am to make space available.

Ports spokeswoman Catherine Etheredge said the company offered to make a portion of Bledisloe and Captain Cook wharfs available but officials decided to use only Captain Cook this weekend.

The Government officials did not want to use Marsden Wharf.

Captain Cook wharf services the car trade and was to be used to host cruise ships during the tournament. No ships are due in this weekend.

- Additional reporting, Elizabeth Binning and APNZ

- NZ Herald

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