Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Govt Rugby World Cup takeover 'essential'

Huge crowds assembled on Quay Street in central Auckland as they waited to get into the Cloud on Queens Wharf for the opening of the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Huge crowds assembled on Quay Street in central Auckland as they waited to get into the Cloud on Queens Wharf for the opening of the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Prime Minister John Key said the takeover of management of the waterfront from Auckland Council was not because the government believed it could do the job better,
but because intervention was essential to get the new facilities and decisions through swiftly.

He said Friday night had made it clear there was a need for overload facilities, which could now be set up on Captain Cook Wharf and possibly Bledisloe Wharf.

''The idea here is that, obviously if more than 12,000 people go down to the Cloud and Queen's Wharf - instead of just having those people mill around and trying to find another place to go in downtown Auckland, there will be a dedicated overflow facility, there will be large screens tvs, toilets, all the way through.''

Asked whether the government could do a better job than the Council, given the turnout was unlikely to be as high as the opening night, he said it was not a matter of doing the job better, "although everyone would hope for a much better outcome than we last Friday
night.''

"But the government is absolutely required to have these back up facilities because ithout
that we can't get the consents in time.''

Compensation plan

Meanwhile, the Auckland Council says it will cost up to $60,000 to compensate fans who missed the Rugby World Cup's opening at Eden Park due to public transport problems.

Fans who arrived late for the opening ceremony and part of the match are likely to be offered a ticket to an All Black quarter-final, and those who missed the entire match could be given a ticket to a (possible) All Black semi-final.

The Auckland Council's accountability and performance committee is this afternoon considering three reports on Friday night's chaos.

Compensation was one of a number of recommendations to the litany of problems caused by overcrowding on Queens Wharf and train delays at Britomart station.

A report by Auckland Council chief executive Doug McKay and chief finance officer Andrew McKenzie said 200 fans had told the council that they had missed or arrived late for the game.

"This clearly does not accurately reflect the size of the issue.... Council has been advised that the 'no-show' proportion for Friday's event was around 2000 [people]."

The compensation package would cost around $50,000 to $60,000, a fee that would be split among the responsible parties - Auckland Council, Government and Veolia.

The reports praised the match, the opening ceremony and the enthusiasm shown by New Zealanders and visitors.

But they were scathing of the transport breakdown: "On transport the disappointment was after three years of planning, a very successful final Bledisloe Cup run through and some agreed actions coming out of the Bledisloe work, we experienced failures."

Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) recommended opening regional fanzones earlier to spread crowds across the city, and increasing exit paths for ferry passengers at Queens Wharf.

Auckland Transport's review suggested improved communications and limit loads on trains, and a greater security presence to prevent inappropriate use of the emergency stop.

Government seizes control

It comes after the Government seized control of Party Central on Queens Wharf - and vowed to extend the fan zone along Auckland's waterfront to try to avoid more Rugby World Cup crowd chaos.

The takeover came as a huge surprise to Auckland city leaders and threatens to cause a political storm.

Under it, a closed-off Quay St and the neighbouring Captain Cook Wharf will be ready for use as an expanded fan zone by this weekend.

The changes will be ready for a Friday evening concert by Che Fu on the main stage at Queens Wharf before the live telecast of the All Blacks' match against Japan in Hamilton.

Part of Bledisloe Wharf could also be used later in the tournament.

After four years of intensive planning under the leadership of Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully, the Government has enacted emergency measures only four days into the tournament.

Yesterday, Mr McCully accepted final responsibility for the event, but said the Government was expanding Party Central after Auckland authorities "dropped the ball" last Friday.

"The whole objective of the Rugby World Cup is to present Auckland as an international city to visitors and the visiting media, and it is very disappointing that in two respects that challenge wasn't met," he said.

Chaotic scenes occurred on the waterfront when 200,000 people poured into the city for the opening night celebrations and a public transport meltdown spilled over to Britomart.

Cup organisers had been expecting up to 150,000 people at the waterfront, although they were publicly talking about a crowd of 50,000.

Les Galler, an intensive care specialist at Auckland City Hospital, said in a letter to the Herald yesterday that Friday's opening night celebrations could easily have turned to tragedy because of the huge crowds, cramped conditions and limited access and escape routes.

Auckland City Hospital was so overloaded with drunk and injured revellers on Friday that ambulances had to take patients to other hospitals.

Mr McCully's announcement came as a huge surprise to Auckland Mayor Len Brown, who was not briefed beforehand.

But at a hastily-organised press conference, Mr Brown - less than a year into the job as the first Super City mayor - said although the announcement could have been handled better, he wanted to keep working with the Government to ensure an outstanding Rugby World Cup.

Auckland councillor Mike Lee said Mr McCully's posturing and grandstanding was aimed at humiliating Mr Brown, the Auckland Council and Aucklanders. The move to "nationalise" Party Central was an overreaction.

Mr Lee blamed problems with the organisation and design of fan zones on the Super City reforms enacted in November last year.

These gave unelected officials at the council-controlled organisation Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development responsibility for the waterfront, he said.

"They created the Super City, not Auckland, and if it's not working to their liking then they should have a look at themselves."

Government officials have been working with Auckland officials, including Queens Wharf officials since the weekend on increasing the capacity of Party Central to prevent a repeat of Friday's overflow. Queens Wharf is limited to 12,000 people.

Mr McCully said he formally asked officials on Monday to make an application under Rugby World Cup empowering legislation for the necessary consents to expand Party Central, and he expected them to pass a fast-track process by today.

The consents will allow part of Quay St to be closed to traffic.

Mr McCully said the cost of expanding Party Central was being worked on, but the Government would contribute to them.

Plans to extend Party Central changed throughout the day yesterday.

Ports of Auckland was contacted for the first time at 7.15am to make space available.

Ports spokeswoman Catherine Etheredge said the company offered to make a portion of Bledisloe and Captain Cook wharfs available but officials decided to use only Captain Cook this weekend.

The Government officials did not want to use Marsden Wharf.

Captain Cook wharf services the car trade and was to be used to host cruise ships during the tournament. No ships are due in this weekend.

- NZ Herald

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