Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Mayor's arty plan hijacks our wharf

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Instead of a priceless panorama, we’ll get a model state house with a Romanov-sized chandelier — and a big bill

Cartoon / Peter Bromhead
Cartoon / Peter Bromhead

In the midst of the city's affordable housing crisis, what does the Auckland Council do? It bends all the rules to fast-track the erection of a mock ye olde state house, complete with a $705,000 Venetian crystal chandelier. Where? On Queens Wharf, the nation's most expensive piece of real estate.

This is the wharf liberated for "public use" in 2009 at a cost to you and me of $40 million. But in the future, when we promenade down it to enjoy the priceless harbour panorama, the view will be dominated by a two thirds-sized model of a 1960s, "nappy valley" special.

To add to the confusion, the interior will house a light-fitting, more appropriate to a Romanov palace.

What it all means will doubtless attract the scribblings of many fine arts PhD students over the years. Artist Michael Parekowhai, we're told, says it's just a lighthouse, signalling a safe harbour and welcome to visitors. Of more concern to me is what this strange intrusion on the waterfront signals to Aucklanders.

To me, it says that if you wave enough money about, the rules and regulations the rest of us have to comply with can be swept aside.

Whether it's good art or not, I have no idea. That's not the issue. The issue is that real estate giant Barfoot & Thompson came knocking on the mayor's door just over a year ago with the offer of a $1 million gift towards a public art work to commemorate the firm's 90th birthday.

Mayor Len Brown declared the offer "awesome" and the bureaucrats came up with another $500,000 of ratepayers' cash to underwrite cost overruns. They also came up with the proposed site.

As recently as January, the extra $500,000 was in the contingency column. In Wednesday's report to the council's arts, culture and events committee, that sum is absorbed into the overall budget and contingency is listed as $100,000.

Throughout the process, the council has ignored all its commitments to producing integrated plans for the waterfront, the CBD and Queens Wharf, some of which will be open to public consultation. Instead, the whole process has been fuelled by the promise of the million-dollar gift.

In the latest report, we're told: "Auckland Council pledged support for the project including making a commitment to the location of the art work at Queens Wharf, timely delivery, financial support for consents and assistance with securing additional funding if necessary."

I challenge anyone to produce an agenda or a report recording any such vote. None took place.

On February 14, arts committee members were told at a briefing of a "landmark artwork for Queens Wharf". They were told this "ideal location" had been "proposed by the mayor and Waterfront Auckland to the donor" and the mayor "confirmed [his] commitment to [the] project and delivery by Auckland's 175th anniversary day", on January 26 next year.

This week, the arts committee voted to give "delegated authority" to the bureaucrats "to complete the planning, development and delivery of the Queens Wharf public art commission".

Acting public affairs manager Mark Hanson says this week's resolution "formalises on behalf of the council the mayor's previous 'in principle' support".

Talk about Mickey Mouse. We're still waiting for Waterfront Auckland, the body charged with the overall development of the waterfront, to unveil its masterplans for the wharf itself, and the waterfront.

The wharf was bought with the vision of opening it up to the public after a century locked behind the port company's red fence.

The Cloud is to go, and apart from the Shed 10 cruise ship terminal, it was to be a blank palette, looking for a grand plan - one open to public consultation. Instead the mayor has hijacked the process to build his first intensified show home.

What next? Last month, one of the mayor's longtime backers, Sir Noel Robinson, floated plans for a privately owned three-storey commercial building halfway along the western side of the wharf.

That plan has gone cold, for the moment at least. But who knows for how long?

- 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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