Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Cement traps us in the bad old days

Plan for giant waterfront silos clashes with Super City aim of giving us all a say in way our city is developed

Illustration / Peter Bromhead
Illustration / Peter Bromhead

One of the justifications for creating the Super City was that it would hasten the end of the planning silo mentality that hog-tied Auckland.

Instead of each little empire planning its future with no regard for its neighbours, we'd all sit around in a big circle holding hands, singing Kumbaya, and charting our joint journey to Nirvana.

It is ironic then, that this week, close on the heels of the announcement of a new 30,000-tonne cement silo on Auckland's downtown waterfront, comes a PR package from the Auckland Council, extolling its long-term plans to turn parts of Quay St into a pedestrian boulevard.

Obviously this is not the part of Quay St that will soon be blocked from the sea by not one, but now two, matching cement bulk storage depots.

The new $50 million Holcim cement store will be linked by pipeline to the Jellicoe Wharf berth at which Holcim bulk carriers will dock.

It will be dome-shaped, peaking at 28m high, sitting alongside the existing $45 million, 2700sq m Golden Bay "horizontal silo" that opened in January 2010.

This followed a deal with the Auckland Council-owned port company and council officials that persuaded Golden Bay to agree to an early departure from its storage facilities at the Wynyard Quarter Tank Farm.

The Golden Bay facility has two buildings - a bulk storage depot, 18m (six stories) high, 84m long and 28m wide, and a smaller 22m (8 stories) high service centre.

When it opened in 2010, it was estimated that about 60 bulk truck tanker loads of cement a day would leave the site.

Holcim now ships cement to Onehunga from its Westport manufacturing plant. That plant will close in mid-2016 once the new Auckland silo, and a matching one in Timaru, are ready.

Local production will then be abandoned, to be replaced by imported cement. Holcim says it has all the necessary planning and building consents for its new facilities, and its new Auckland base enables it "to supply direct into one of its major markets".

Because Auckland as a region decided many years ago to retain a downtown port, and concentrate port activities to the east of Queen's Wharf, there will be those who will say that the die has already been cast, so we should just let Ports of Auckland get on with making a profit for we shareholding ratepayers.

On the other hand, one of the selling points of creating the Super City was that it would give Aucklanders the chance to have a say about the development of the city, particularly when it involved important areas like the waterfront.

Yet when it came to cement, if you'll forgive the pun, the old silo mentality continues to prevail. Not only in relationships between the port company and the council, but between various arms of the council. As for the rest of us, forget it - we didn't get a look in.

On the one hand, the council issues an artist's pretty impression of a sun-bathed, almost car-free Quay St and says it is at the "very early stage" of obtaining design advice on the Quay St makeover and that proposals will be considered by councillors and the public before any decisions are made.

It's all part of soft-soaping us into believing we're all part of the design process to create a great waterfront and city centre. Yet while we sit back and check for various long overdue plans for areas like the CBD waterfront and for Queens Wharf, and admire pohutukawa-framed impressions of Aucklanders at play near the Ferry Buildings, those who have always made the decisions continue on their merry way.

In this instance it would have been nice to know that someone had checked whether it really was necessary to have huge Tweedledum and Tweedledee cement silos alongside each other on some of Auckland's most expensive real estate.

True, we're told of the need for more competition in the building trade. But I'm guessing that one man's cement is very much like the next's.

And if fiercely competitive petrol companies can combine at Marsden Point to not only store, but jointly process their competing goods through one plant, then why can't a couple of cement moguls do likewise.

What comes next? Renewed pressure from the port company to reclaim more land?

- 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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