Brian Rudman: Go-it-alone North Shore leaves historic wharf on its last legs

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North Shore City councillor Dianne Hale is rewriting history when she claims the council "clearly was not aware" that Devonport's historic Victoria Wharf was in "so bad" condition when it bought it from Ports of Auckland in June 2002.

Well, why else does she think her council got 2500sq m of prime waterfront Devonport for a token $395,000?

At the time, she'd have been lucky to have got a do-up house anywhere in the suburb for that price. Of course everyone knew it was on its last legs.

But more to the point, North Shore City didn't have to pay a penny of that purchase price anyway.

The money came from Infrastructure Auckland, the then regional funding body.

It was part of a $32.34 million grant announced on June 5, 2002 "towards the biggest ferry project New Zealand has ever seen".

The money was for the purchase of existing Ports of Auckland ferry wharves dotted around the inner harbour and the development of them and others.

It came after an application from the Auckland, Manukau, North Shore and Waitakere city councils. As part of the package, North Shore City received $2.04 million to buy wharves on the North Shore.

IA minutes show this included the 80-year-old Victoria Wharf, a popular fishing and promenading spot alongside the newer Devonport Wharf.

To North Shore City's shame, officials admit that "since its acquisition, there has been no budget provision for repairs and maintenance" for this regional asset.

Now the decay has become so bad it can't be hidden any longer, councillors are agonising over whether to knock it down for $3 million or spend up to $15 million on various degrees of deferred maintenance.

Before they put out the begging bowl, could I remind them of the potential value of this gift from their fellow Aucklanders.

In the past year, two houses in nearby waterfront King Edward Pde sold for $3.6 million and $1.8 million. The first had a land area of 917sq m, the other, 488sq m.

The region's gift to North Shore City was 2500sq m.

And it's over the water. Do the sums. If I was running North Shore, I'd do the repairs before the rest of us start bagging them for neglecting their regional responsibilities.

The irony is, it's a burden of their own making. Back in those heady days at the start of the century, the plan was for Auckland Regional Transport Network Ltd - now deceased - to take over the ownership of the region's ferry terminals from the port company and provide integrated management of a reborn ferry service.

The Crown and three of the four affected cities agreed on regional ownership but North Shore didn't.

Suspicious of the rest of us, and still nursing a decade-old grudge that they should have inherited the wharves free when the old harbour board was abolished, the North Shore-ites wanted to assume ownership of the wharves on its side of the harbour rather than let the regional body take them over.

After a long tussle, the rest of us gave in and more than generously, stumped up the purchase price as well.

If North Shore now finds the bed it's lying in has developed a painful lump, then it has only itself to blame. Six years ago, the rest of us offered it a feather mattress.

But little Miss Go-It-Alone decided a home-grown bracken bed was better.

For some reason, the wharf is not on North Shore's heritage register. But as group property manager Glenn Harris points out, it "has been there for as long as most people remember and has a place in the history of Devonport".

As important, it has a place in the history of the whole inner harbour, just as have the adjacent naval installations and the various wharves and marinas at the bottom of Auckland City.

Hopefully, the Royal Commissioners reviewing Auckland governance will offer saner solutions to such issues.

But while we wait, is it too much to ask North Shore to do the decent thing and ensure this treasure doesn't collapse into the tide?

As Mr Harris rightly argues, "the loss of such an icon would not be an acceptable outcome".

- NZ Herald

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