Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: 'Legacy' toilets - it's a Shore thing

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On Monday, I noted yet again how mean and insular North Shore City is when it comes to sharing the cost of regional amenities such as the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and the Auckland Regional Rescue Helicopter. Incredibly, they still don't seem to get it.

Days after throwing into turmoil this year's funding for 10 regional amenities, North Shore City councillors don't seem the slightest bit embarrassed about expecting the rest of us to prop up their crumbling wharves.

Wharves for which, by their own admission, there has been "no budget provision for repairs and maintenance" since they acquired them, one in 2002, the other in 2006.

The 80-year-old Victoria Wharf and the newer adjacent Devonport Wharf are estimated to need upwards of $15 million in urgent upkeep. But instead of setting money aside for this, North Shore City plans to hand them over to the Super City organisation on November 1 "as is". To hide their blushes, and the wharves' decay, councillors will spend a paltry $140,000 on a cosmetic tart-up.

Councillor Dianne Hale told my colleague Wayne Thompson that a working party had decided it was best left to the new council to see to needed multimillion-dollar improvements.

She said, "Clearly the [North Shore] council was not going to have the money to preserve it and it was pointless to do a patch-up in that harsh environment."

In other words, leave it to the suckers across the rest of the isthmus to pay for the maintenance North Shore has deferred for so long.

Of course if we were to be picky, the city engineered a windfall of around $14 million for itself this year which would have been perfect for the job.

Just over a month ago, North Shore sold its former Albany works depot for more than $10 million. The property was owned by the city's trading organisation North Shore City Holdings Ltd, which also happened to have a $3 million surplus just waiting for a new home as well.

The depot had been leased out for years, but councillors decided to sell it off quickly before amalgamation with the rest of Auckland, so the loot could be sprayed around North Shore in a parochial lolly-scramble and not have to be shared.

Mayor Andrew Williams referred to the "good geographical spread of legacy projects across the Shore" that the windfall would fund. It must be the first time new public toilets - one each in Rosedale Park, Eskdale Reserve and Sunnynook Reserve, for $1.5 million - have been called legacy projects.

Mind you, given Mr Williams' recent adventures with a tree, you can see why he might see public urinals as the stuff of history. It seems only right he be called in to christen them.

Other urgent "legacy" projects are resanding at Little Shoal Bay, shifting a Takapuna visitors' centre and ticketing improvements at North Harbour Stadium.

All worthy projects, no doubt, but as historic Victoria Wharf is so unsafe that vehicles have been banned from it, shouldn't it have been a higher priority project.

Still, why bother when you can have your cake and eat it too. Spend up large on frippery, knowing that with amalgamation you can drop the crumbling heritage wharves into the laps of greater Auckland, then scream blue murder if the rest of us don't stop them collapsing into the sea.

The irony is that in 2002, parochial-minded North Shore City refused to join the rest of the region and put all the inner-harbour ferry wharves into regional ownership under the Auckland Regional Transport Network.

They were then owned by Ports of Auckland. North Shore insisted on owning not only Victoria Wharf, but those at Stanley Bay, Northcote Pt and Birkenhead.

The rest of the region not only accepted this stonewalling, but handed over $2.04 million from the regional "bank", Infrastructure Auckland, so North Shore got the wharves free.

North Shore didn't trust the rest of us to look after their wharf infrastructure. The neglect that has ensued makes such paranoia something of a sick joke. In 2006, North Shore paid $2.9 million to a private owner to add Devonport Wharf to its collection. Since then it has fared no better than its old neighbour.

As an Aucklander, I find it a relief these two wharves will soon be in regional custody. Much longer with their present owner and they'd have gone glug glug down into the slimy deeps.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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