Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Corporate castles foil a fine vision

Auckland's waterfront was meant to be vibrant and exciting, not a magnet for head offices and work carparks.

The much vaunted plan envisioned imaginative use of a unique area as part of Auckland's waterfront redevelopment. Photo / Supplied
The much vaunted plan envisioned imaginative use of a unique area as part of Auckland's waterfront redevelopment. Photo / Supplied

So much for the much vaunted Waterfront Plan. First comes the ad hoc and unplanned decision to retain The Cloud on Queens Wharf. Now the whisper is that dairy giant Fonterra is to establish its international corporate headquarters in what is supposed to be the jewel in Auckland's waterfront redevelopment, the Wynyard Quarter.

Last Thursday Auckland councillors thumbed their noses at the Waterfront Plan's fine vision, by agreeing to retain the "temporary," and already rusting, Rugby World Cup "party central" building on Queens Wharf for up to another 50 years. This, despite no mention of it in the official blueprint.

The plan highlights two uses for Queens Wharf. One is the transformation of the Class 1 registered heritage building, Shed 10 into both Auckland's primary cruise ship terminal and a unique multipurpose venue for major events. The other aim is the development of "an impressive public open space reflecting the culture and heritage of Auckland and New Zealand".

The rumoured imminent migration of yet another corporate office headquarters into this precious piece of waterfront also goes against the whole spirit of the Wynyard Quarter vision.

Eyebrows were raised a year or two back, when Waterfront Auckland announced that ASB Bank's headquarters building would be the first major tenant. Its $132 million office block, home to 1500-2000 staff, opens in June. Now, it seems, Fonterra has ended its search for a new headquarters site. In December, when chief executive Theo Spierings launched the hunt, he said he would be looking for somewhere within an area bounded by the waterfront to the north, Westhaven, Mechanics Bay to the east and Mt Wellington to the south. He wanted an office area of between 1.1ha and 1.3ha , "eco-smart" offices for 1000 or more people, and parking for 500 cars. The talk is of a campus-style development.

Now I've got nothing against Fonterra. Without its export abilities, we'd all be drowning in a huge surplus of milk. But what exactly does Fonterra in particular, or corporate headquarters in general, have to do with the vision as laid out in the Waterfront Plan. It declared:

"The vision for the area is a mix of residential, retail and commercial development to enable the growth of a strong, diverse, resilient and vibrant residential and business community whilst retaining the existing marine and fishing industries."

But the pattern that seems to be emerging is to lure castles full of 9-to-5 corporate office workers, who will drive in and out of the area during rush hours, adding to rush hour congestion across the Fanshawe St bottle neck, and leaving empty streets and offices to the cleaners.

It doesn't sound a very vibrant or imaginative use of this valuable space. No doubt Waterfront Auckland are desperate to get tenants paying leases on its land. And at a pinch, they could argue that Fonterra is an exporting company so has the maritime links they were seeking. But in reality, this was the dirty end of the old port, where the oil was stored and the vessels built and repaired.

Fonterra's requirement of 500 car parks also goes against the Wynyard Quarter Transport Plan, which acknowledges that being bound on three sides by water and the fourth by Fanshawe St - "a major motorway connection and part of the Northern Busway" - "poses significant challenges in terms of accessibility".

The plan "aims to constrain future private vehicle travel to and from Wynyard Quarter, particularly during peak periods, by encouraging ... passenger transport services ..." The target is for 70 per cent of peak trips by public transport, cycling or working, and only 30 per cent by car. This, it warns, will be monitored. But encouraging large agglomerations of 9-to-5 headquarters staff, with plenty of carparking, runs counter to this plan.

The plan highlights the innovation precinct, the fishing industry waterspace, heritage boatyards, the headland park, along with shopping and dining and residential occupation. The plan was to create somewhere new and unique. Somewhere that lived up to its unique site. But it's starting to be more like the latest victim of CBD creep; the temporary base for big head offices, as they move from place to place, seeking a new funky address to impress their clients and rivals.

- 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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