Tank Farm proposals sweet and sour for industries

By Bernard Orsman

Marine industry

Southern Spars general manager Lou Cadman says the mast builder would like to stay on the Tank Farm but a climate of uncertainty could see the company up sticks and leave.

It's a common gripe among the 109 marine companies that make up the Westhaven marine cluster. The cluster employs 1000 people, has a turnover of $400 million and generates exports worth $120 million a year.

Southern Spars has plans for a $20 million complex on the Tank Farm but there is no land for development, said Mr Cadman. It has spent $1.5 million upgrading its fourth building in 10 years at the Tank Farm, in which time it has grown to become a world leader in carbon fibre masts.

"We think it's important for the marine industry in New Zealand that we stay here," says Mr Cadman, adding that the company had "24 months max" to make a decision.

A report prepared by the Westhaven Marine Reference Group said the future of the Auckland and national marine industries depended on the Auckland City Council retaining a significant area for marine activity when it rezoned the Tank Farm. The council has set aside 8ha on the western side of the Tank Farm for marine use.

"The cluster's location is unique in terms of the adjacent recreational and commercial client pools, and its inner city location provides a strong selling point when marketing refit services to superyachts, one of the cluster's growth markets," the report said.

Boatbuilder Ian Cook has just completed a $14 million superyacht at a yard in Beach Haven but said the marine cluster was vital to completing and commissioning the shell from a raw state to a glamorous superyacht.

"It is like buying a Porsche," said Marine Industry Association executive director Peter Busfield. "You do not buy a Porsche from the factory, you buy the car from the showroom."

Mr Busfield said the Tank Farm was the shop front for the marine industry, a vibrant and events-driven industry that even grannies in Timaru associated with Auckland.

He said the industry was pretty happy with the council's plans for the marine industry but was concerned that Ports of Auckland, as landowner, might not agree and challenge the plans in the courts.

Lack of zoning certainty was the last thing the industry needed and would delay investment in the area, said Mr Busfield.

Bulk liquid industry

The bulk liquid industry, which uses the dozens of tanks and miles of pipes that give the Tank Farm its name, is the big loser. The industry is being moved - and the tanks will gradually be demolished - to make way for more profitable apartments.

The industry accepts the inevitable but is far from happy about plans to develop a process, timetable and alternative sites for the 250,000 tonnes of bulk liquids that come across Wynyard Wharf every year.

The bulk goods include vegetable oils and molasses for the food and dairy industries; solvents and chemicals for paint, medical and other industries; and bitumen. Wynyard Wharf was also used to export 70,000 tonnes of low-value tallow, which would otherwise be dumped at landfills.

Shell, which has operated from the Tank Farm for more than 50 years, will be moving when its leases run out in 10 to 16 years. Its tanks contain solvents and Auckland's only marine fuels and bitumen storage facilities.

Shell spokeswoman Jackie Maitland said the company had a strong preference to stay at the Tank Farm but accepted relocation was inevitable. The industry needed a deep-water harbour, port handling facilities and suitable road access.

Bulk liquid industry spokesman Geoff Green said the industry was a critical supply line for Auckland, with 4000 jobs and $1.2 billion of economic activity at stake.

"At the moment, the industry is being led towards a fait accompli by Ports of Auckland, little action from the Auckland Regional Council and nil consideration by Auckland City Council," said Mr Green.

He said the port company had a conflict of interest in closing the bulk liquid industry to boost container volumes. It wanted the ARC to divest the port company of its Tank Farm landholdings and set up a regional development commission to consider the future of the bulk liquid industry.

Fishing industry

Top cooks such as Peta Mathias and Geoff Scott, formerly of the Hilton's White Restaurant and owner of the Herne Bay restaurant Vinnies, are already working on the Tank Farm at Sanford's seafood school in Jellicoe St.

It's cooking stars like these the Auckland City Council hopes will move to Jellicoe St when it becomes the main restaurant and cafe strip and home of the fishing fleet at the Tank Farm.

Eric Barratt, managing director of Sanfords, says the fishing industry is relatively comfortable with council plans to base the fleet of up to 40 fishing boats at the wharf area in front of Jellicoe St.

In the past five years, Sanfords has invested $25 million redeveloping its wholesale auction market, building a new seafood plant, retail fish market and seafood school in Jellicoe St.

Mr Barratt said so long as the fishing fleet could unload its catch (usually early morning or late at night) unhindered, it would be comfortable sharing Jellicoe St with the public. It would also create business opportunities for the industry, he said.

The fishing industry does, however, have a couple of concerns with the Tank Farm plans. It is keen to retain two slipways of up to 1500 tonnes on the eastern side for servicing fishing boats, the ferry fleet and other working boats. Without these facilities (the dry dock at the Devonport naval base is only for large ships), these boats would have to go to Whangarei for servicing and repairs.

The council has acknowledged the issue but says the extent of a marine precinct on the eastern harbour edge is up for "further debate".

Mr Barratt said the fishing industry was also concerned with council plans to put marine facilities right up against apartments.

"Ideally we would like to have some non-residential use in between," he said.

Cruise ships

When the giant cruise liner Diamond Princess berthed at Princes Wharf last week, it took 50 buses, 50 mini-buses and about 300 taxis to disembark 2750 passengers and 200 crew. Another 80 trucks arrived with provisions to stock the ship's shelves.

This pattern has been repeated 48 times over the summer cruise season, mostly at Princes Wharf and, occasionally, at Queens Wharf when two cruise ships are in port on the same day.

Cruise Industry Association chairman Craig Harris opposes plans by Auckland City Council and Ports of Auckland to develop Wynyard Wharf on the Tank Farm as a second wharf for cruise ships. The council plans a park up against Wynyard Wharf.

For starters, the wharf would need a large amount of space fenced off from the public to house Customs and Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries staff and to provide storage for baggage. A two-storey building or a very long one-storey building would be needed, said Mr Harris.

The wharf would also need an area for cranes and forklifts and a three-lane road to handle traffic.

But the biggest downside to the plans was the distance from the central city to Wynyard Wharf, Mr Harris said.

It was more preferable for passengers to be at a central city wharf, close to hotels and tourist facilities.

"I'm not sure why we need a temporary facility in a park," he said. 

Melbourne vision on massive scale

While Auckland dreams of turning an area the size of the CBD into an exciting new waterfront precinct, Melbourne is busy developing an area equivalent to the size of its CBD.

Melbourne Docklands occupies 200ha of land around three waterways to the west of the city. It is a mammoth project, even by international standards, with the $460 million Telstra Dome being the first building to open in 2000 and 6200 residents already living in the $9 billion staged development.

By 2015, Melbourne Docklands is expected to become home to 20,000 Victorians, a workplace for 25,000 and to have 55,000 visitors a day enjoying 7km of 30-metre-wide waterfront promenades.

There will be a waterfront tram service and the Spencer St railway station will get a Britomart-like modern makeover.

The project is under the wing of VicUrban, a development agency set up by the Victorian State Government. So far, the state government has put about $200 million into the project. When completed, Melbourne Docklands is expected to be 99 per cent financed by the private sector.

The Melbourne City Council is due to take over the docklands next year, but there are reports that ratepayers will inherit a deficit instead of a forecast surplus.

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