Brian Rudman: Waterfront for Auckland, and the cruise visitors

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It's great to see Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee, Auckland Mayor John Banks and Government bureaucrats all pushing for a new and improved cruise ship terminal on Queen's Wharf. But please oh please, let's not just rush into it in isolation as we usually do.

Buried towards the end of the Ministry of Economic Development's discussion paper on the issue is the key phrase. "Ideally, any redevelopment of Queens Wharf necessarily requires that it be done within the context of the whole waterfront and the adjoining CBD interface."

One can only assume the authors had battled their way past Britomart Station to the wharf before writing that. What an uninviting hell-hole the environs of that lovingly redeveloped historic building has become, now the area is wall-to-wall with noisy, fume belching buses.

The concept of flowing down Queen St onto a redeveloped, people-friendly wharf space, rather loses its appeal when you have to venture through the bus badlands to get there. A master-plan, would, you might hope, have realised that a good solution as far as transport planners were concerned, sucked as far as encouraging life back to the port end of town was concerned.

But that's Auckland for you. We tend to stumble from one grand isolated scheme to the next without much thought to context.

Princes Wharf was promoted in much the same terms as the proposed Queens Wharf redevelopment is now being mooted. It was to be an international cruise ship terminal, with wide open public access and a flash hotel. That was just 10 years ago.

What we ended up with is an all but privatised wharf, where the public are at best tolerated, and the cruise ship facilities have always been inadequate. Now we're set to try again.

As an Aucklander I'm all for persuading the Government to fund the new terminal facilities on the grounds that the economic benefits from the growing worldwide craze for cruising is a national benefit not a local one.

What does confuse me is the apparently reluctance of Ports of Auckland to come to the party. To read the officials report, you get the impression that handling tourist flesh across the Auckland waterfront will soon be the new butter and cheese of the 21st century economy. After a century or more of frozen shipping, the money is now to be made transporting on-the-hoof American and Aussie baby-boomers.

Yet for some reason, the port company doesn't see this as core business. They have plenty of money for the latest multi-million straddle carriers to lift containers and to dredge deeper channels for the latest container ships, but when it comes to tourists, instead of adapting to the new economy, they're talking of selling off Queens Wharf.

Even weirder, Auckland Mayor John Banks wants to buy it, with $60 million to $80 million of my rates money. This is the leader of a council crying poor over building a community swimming pool in Avondale, to say nothing of growing my grass verge regularly.

The problem for the port company and its owner, the ARC, is that the profits aren't good in the cruise industry. As a cruise port of call, Auckland is in competition with Australian destinations where Governments have subsidised terminal development. Without a similar subsidy from our Government, Auckland risks becoming too expensive for the cruise companies and the New Zealand economy would miss out on the growing bonanza.

Whether the Government comes to the party or not, we need a plan that avoids the mistake of Princes Wharf. Let's keep Queens Wharf a people place, with plenty of space for passive recreation. There will be need for a customs hall and facilities for processing and transporting passengers. The ARC leadership envisages markets and exhibition space as well. Perhaps that could be housed in the customs hall when it's not in use.

The last thing we need is another clutter of cafes, bars and restaurants.

We want it open and, at times, windswept. Somewhere to enjoy the salt air and the harbour and the passing parade of yachts and ferries and other vessels. Somewhere on the waterfront that Aucklanders can call their own and feel welcome and not have to pay.

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