Editorial: Waitemata must not be narrowed

Auckland port. Photo / APN
Auckland port. Photo / APN

Council should give clear message to port company The Auckland port company is proving very slow to get a simple message: the Waitemata is not to be narrowed. The harbour is still wide enough between the wharves and Devonport to retain its visual splendour but it is not so wide that it can continue to accommodate wharf extensions without losing its expansive character.

If the city is not very careful it could discover, too late, that yet another incremental reclamation (one is already underway) has reduced the harbour entrance to a shipping channel and Auckland, quite suddenly, is less scenic.

How hard can it be for the port company to understand this? Having failed to get extended reclamations written into the Auckland Council's 30-year plan last year, the company has come back this year trying to get a smaller extension written into the council's 10-year unitary plan.

But really the council is to blame. Instead of giving its wholly owned company a clear message the first time around that no further encroachment on the Waitemata can be contemplated, the council prevaricated. It promised to review a range of development options for the port.

Then its planners told the council they could not do the review before the unitary plan was finalised in September and recommended that a port expansion be considered as part of that plan. The mayor and elected members were asked to endorse this suggestion at a planning committee meeting on Tuesday. They decided to ask the company to consult Aucklanders before the council decides what to do.

How weak. It is the council's job to "consult" its citizens if it really needs to. It has an army of publicists paid from rates for this purpose. The company is answerable to the council for running the port. It needs a clear direction from its sole shareholder, which also happens to be responsible for the wider interests of Auckland.

The council knows very well that if it comes to a choice between a bigger port and their wide harbour, most Aucklanders have no doubt where their welfare lies. The expanse of their harbour is superior even to Sydney's. It is not just a visual treat and a boating paradise, these qualities are immensely valuable to the city's economy.

So, of course, is the port which wants to enlarge Bledisloe Wharf and this week presented the council with two options. One would extend the reclamation a further 135m into the harbour, the other is a 179m extension that would enable another of the old wharves, Captain Cook, to be relinquished for public use. Neither is acceptable.

If the port has no further use for Captain Cook Wharf it should use that space for expansion. The public already has Queens Wharf, acquired for the Rugby World Cup and still awaiting a worthy permanent development. The western reclamation, too, will be available when the tank farm is removed. Those are ample for additional public space and perfect sites for distinctive civic architecture, as yet unimagined.

Auckland's port serves the country's largest population centre. It is hardly going to disappear if its wharves are not long enough for the next generation of cargo ships. If those ships went instead to Marsden Pt or Tauranga fewer containers would be hauled into the city. But if Ports of Auckland wants to accommodate bigger ships it must find room within its present area. The council should say so.

Its reluctance suggests the mayor and most members have been persuaded to sacrifice a bit more of the harbour but do not want to admit it in election year. They want the company to convince us. No chance.

- NZ Herald

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