Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Sad Slug surplus to requirements

Murray McCully. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Murray McCully. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Waterfront Auckland's proposed $14.63 million conversion of historic Shed 10 on Queen's Wharf into a cruise-ship terminal just underlines the appalling waste of public money the neighbouring Slug structure represents.

The $9.8 million Prime Minister John Key and his Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully insisted be splurged on this temporary event space would have all but paid for the Shed 10 upgrade.

It's not as though nobody had come up with the idea at the time. The NZ Historic Places Trust and the Auckland Regional Council had advanced a $17.8 million plan to turn the old wharf shed into a space suitable not just as the cruise-ship terminal everyone wanted, but as the "party central" that Mr Key and Mr McCully had set their hearts on.

It seemed the perfect win-win solution, but the national politicians were having none of it. They wanted Shed 10 and its small neighbour destroyed and the Slug erected in their place. If not, they threatened to take their party elsewhere. The eventual compromise was the smaller shed would go, but the Slug would be erected further west than originally proposed so that Shed 10 could survive.

The Government then went ahead and spent $9.8 million on its temporary structure, while Auckland ratepayers handed over $3.6 million so that Shed 10 could be made safe as an overflow venue.

Now the rugby circus - and the multi-million profits - have disappeared offshore, and it's time for Aucklanders to pick up the pieces.

No longer is there talk of the $467 million world-class, landmark terminal-cum-convention centre proposed at the peak of Queen's Wharf development fever. Even Mayor Len Brown's recent $28.7 million Shed 10 refurbishment proposal has disappeared.

Instead, there's a $14.63 million redevelopment which, God bless them, even includes a $2.5 million contribution from Ports of Auckland to pay for the gangway linking the ships with the terminal.

If you add in the $3.6 million spent last year to make the roof watertight and the ground floor safe, the grand total comes to much the estimated cost of the NZHPT-ARC proposal put up before the World Cup.

As for the sad and forlorn, plastic-sheathed Slug, its fate now lies in the hands of Auckland councillors. Later this month, Waterfront Auckland's board will be asked to approve a report to councillors outlining various options for its future. They will then have to break the news to Mr McCully that either, yes, they'd like to retain his property, or no, thanks kindly and all that, but will he please take his leftovers home.

I've never liked the thing, and the make-over of Shed 10 into a multi-purpose events venue-cum-cruise terminal just adds to the reasons why the Slug is surplus to requirements.

If nothing else, it's going to block the view towards the bridge from the revamped mezzanine floor of its neighbour.

The minimalist upgrade works for me.

The miserable up-front contribution from the port company continues to rankle, but it seems a deal's a deal. It dates back to the agreement struck between Auckland local politicians, the Government and Ports of Auckland (POAL) in 2009 when the port company agreed to sell Queen's Wharf to the Auckland Regional Council and the Government for $20 million each. In the small print, the ARC committed to building a cruise-ship terminal at no cost to POAL.

In return, POAL agreed to allow public access to the wharf as long as it didn't affect cruise ship activities. The port company also agreed to undertake the long-term maintenance of the under-wharf structure and dredging and berth maintenance.

Ratepayers have to pay annual wharf operating costs of $4.1 million. The port company will pay for the operating costs of the cruise-ship terminal on the days ships are berthed, otherwise ratepayers have to pick up the bill. The berthage fees paid by the cruise operators will go to the port company, not Auckland Council.

The official spin is that cruise ships are great for the Auckland economy.

I'll try to keep that in mind as I write out my next rates cheque.

- NZ Herald

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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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