Mayor Brown’s backing for port expansion makes his support for controversial $1.5m art gift seem hollow

In the furore over Port of Auckland's plans to extend Bledisloe Wharf nearly 100m out into the harbour, one of Mayor Len Brown's pet projects was overlooked.

In more ways than one. The controversial Barfoot & Thompson state house lighthouse at the end of Queens Wharf will be blinkered.

The 250,000 or more cruise ship passengers a year it was designed to lure up the harbour won't be able to spot its technicolour welcome until their boats are almost berthed.

During the debate, Urban Auckland representative Julie Stout produced images showing the new wharf extensions would block the priceless panoramic views from the end of Queens Wharf out to Browns Island and into the Hauraki Gulf.


But what was missed was that the view from on the water into the city would be similarly obscured, blanking out the welcoming glow from the proposed $1.5 million art work.

Even without container ships tied up to the new wharf extensions, the first sight most passengers would get of what artist Michael Parekowhai refers to as "the simple two-storey wooden house " would be just before docking, as their boat passes Bledisloe Wharf and makes a sharp turn left before Queens Wharf to berth alongside the proposed new cruise ship terminal at Captain Cook Wharf.

In persuading councillors of the need to commandeer the tip of Queens Wharf for the lighthouse, the mayor and council arts panel argued the site was "a key portal into New Zealand for international visitors arriving via vessel" and was "visible from multiple vantage points".

Mr Parekowhai explained that his work would be "a lighthouse that signals safe harbour and welcome".

Numerous large windows and a skylight "will allow those arriving by vessel to glimpse into the lighthouse as they approach the shore".

The skylight, he said, "allows incoming cruise ship passengers to peer in" to view the $705,000 Venetian crystal chandelier inside.

The idea of passengers leaning over the rails and peering in raises another point.

Such sightseeing would have been possible while Queens Wharf was the cruise ship terminal. But in the confusion that seems to be waterfront planning, that was last month's vision.

The latest waterfront plan is to abandon Queens Wharf as the official cruise ship terminal and build another next door to the east on Captain Cook Wharf, after extending that 160m into the harbour.

If I were Barfoot & Thompson I'd be feeling short-changed. It offered the mayor a $1 million sculpture to mark 90 years of selling and buying Auckland property.

The mayor and his art advisers came up with the idea of the Parekowhai lighthouse, and proposed the end of Queens Wharf, dubbed the "people's wharf" after the Government and Auckland Regional Council paid $40 million to liberate it from port control, as the perfect spot.

From there, the lighthouse would invite people "to feel at home in New Zealand Aotearoa" to signal "the home fires are burning and the lights are on".

Unfortunately, with the mayor's backing for the Bledisloe Wharf extensions and the replacement of Queens Wharf as the main cruise ship terminal, his promise to Barfoot & Thompson has been rendered rather hollow. Our visitors will find it difficult to spot either the home fires or the lights.

At a council briefing on the latest port master plan recently, my suggestion that the lighthouse be moved to the end of the extended Captain Cook Wharf was greeted with a steely silence. That was before the Herald revealed that the port company had secretly gained resource consent for the Bledisloe Wharf extensions.

Once they are completed, placing the lighthouse on the new cruise ship wharf would make little difference. It, too, would be masked by the container port extensions.

By now the ideal site for the new lighthouse seems glaringly obvious. Only on the end of one of the two Bledisloe Wharf extensions will it be able to perform its function as "a lighthouse that signals safe harbour and welcome".

I suspect the unfriendly port company might not be so keen to have the rest of us traipsing along between the containers to peer into the lighthouse and admire the chandelier. But I'm sure that after all the concessions the mayor is granting the port, he has built up enough credit to get a little back in return.