Plans for an $8.5-million Yachting New Zealand high performance centre are in limbo, as funding from central and local government bodies comes under scrutiny.
The Weekend Herald revealed yesterday Sport New Zealand have come under fire from the Auditor General over their funding of the troubled project, initially known as the National Ocean Water Sports Centre, and later the Community Marine Hub.
Sport NZ has already sunk $800,000 of its planned $3 million investment on what critics called a "series of wasteful and abortive attempts" to get the facility built on reserve land in Takapuna.
Yachting NZ finally abandoned efforts to get consent to build on the Takapuna site in July last year, ending a protracted, at times bitter, battle with the local community board.
Seven years on from when the glossy architectural drawings for the centre were unveiled, Yachting NZ are no closer to getting the project off the ground, but the national body has not given up.
Yachting NZ chief executive David Abercrombie confirmed the organisation is looking at alternative sites at Gulf Harbour.
Despite the Auditor General investigating Sport NZ's spending on the project, Abercrombie is confident it won't jeopardise any future funding.
"We've obviously burnt some of what we had, but Sport NZ is committed to helping us develop a yachting centre of excellence, as are our other funders," said Abercrombie.
"We'll have a fairly tight rein in regards to what's been planned and proposed and where we go, but ultimately the support is still there."
There are also question marks over the status of the $3 million that Auckland Council have ring-fenced for the project.
Yachting NZ may face a battle uplifting the funds if it takes the centre to Gulf Harbour. The local government investment was secured through an agreement with the former North Shore City Council, and later approved by the Auckland Transition Agency ahead of the Super City merger in late 2010.
Auckland councillor for the North Shore ward, Chris Darby, said the money was intended for a legacy project for the North Shore community and so that's where it should remain.
"The money allocated came from the proceeds of asset disposals prior to amalgamation. I'm of the view it would be inappropriate to disburse that $3 million outside of the old North Shore City boundaries," he said.
Darby also considers the relationship agreement between the Harbour Access Trust - the body that initially led the development on behalf of Yachting NZ - and the North Shore City Council to have been voided when the planned site moved from The Strand to the reserve occupied by the holiday park in 2012.
"That funding was site specific. The relationship agreement outlines about 20 conditions, and a lot of those were never met," said Darby.
"If Yachting New Zealand are looking at an alternate site, then they will need to put in a different application for council to consider."
The project vision also appears to have morphed since the relationship agreement was signed. The centre was first pitched as both a community and high performance facility, for a range of ocean sports.
Its latest moniker - the Yachting New Zealand Centre of Excellence - leaves little doubt as to the purpose of the venture.
The changing scope of the project saw another key funder, the New Zealand Community Trust (NZCT), which had pledged up to $2.5 million, withdraw its funding - for now.
"We had committed funds to the National Ocean Water Sports Centre on Takapuna Reserve, but as the project is no longer going ahead in its original form, those funds have been withdrawn," said NZCT chief executive Mike Knell.
"We're now awaiting alternate concept plans to come before the trustees for consideration."
Abercrombie believes the NZCT will come back on board.
"Legally they are not able to continually roll over funding, so we will have to put in a new funding application, but I'm confident the quality of the project will still receive a favourable response," he said.
Sport NZ boss Peter Miskimmin reinforced his organisation's commitment for a fit-for-purpose high-performance yachting facility.
"Clearly [sailing] is an important sport for us going forward and improving that daily training environment and creating the best conditions possible is still very much a priority," said Miskimmin.
"We will be investing through Yachting NZ into a site, it's just a matter of what that site is. The investment, and the need are still there."
Miskimmin admitted he was deeply frustrated at the drawn-out nature of the saga. When plans were first unveiled for the facility in Takapuna, the expectation was it would be built by the time the 2012 London Olympics rolled around. A further Olympic cycle has now passed without a sod being turned or resource consent granted.
"We really want to do this for the athletes more than anything. This is very much a long-term vision.
"It's like what we are doing with the Avantidrome and Karapiro - it's not just for the athletes now, it's for the next 15 to 20 years.
"We want to get this right. We thought we had a formula that was right but there were other circumstances and other reasons why the Takapuna site didn't work out and we will take all the time we need to ensure we get this right," said Miskimmin.