The public desire for greater access to the Auckland waterfront got a boost yesterday with the news that the Auckland Regional Council is setting up a special company to manage the Tank Farm development on the western harbourside.
But while ARC chairman Mike Lee talked up the company as a step forward to achieving a world-class waterfront, he talked down the prospect of opening up Queens Wharf in the near future.
During last month's debate on a waterfront stadium, Aucklanders overwhelmingly agreed the waterfront needed to be opened up and integrated with the city.
To speed up and simplify the Tank Farm redevelopment, the ARC agreed in principle to set up a company, Wynyard Management, to manage the day-to-day operations and removed Ports of Auckland from the equation.
The 18ha at the Tank Farm will be transferred to Auckland Regional Holdings so the ports company can focus on running its core business at the eastern end of the waterfront.
The ARC owns 100 per cent of the ports company through its investment arm, ARH.
ARH chairwoman Judith Bassett said the company was critical to the success of the Tank Farm, one of the largest developments in the city's history and due to take more than 20 years to complete.
"The complexity of managing this land now and into the future and the scale of the project can't be underestimated," she said.
The ARC also released coastal plan changes to allow for a new "Te Wero bridge" across the Viaduct Harbour to the Tank Farm, a marine events centre on Halsey St and other uses of the water area.
Mr Lee said the ARC was ready to move from the planning stage to the "doing" and start creating the kind of waterfront Aucklanders wanted.
The first plan for the 35ha Tank Farm development was to build the bridge and create an entertainment strip on the other side along Jellicoe St in time for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
But while Mr Lee acknowledged the stadium debate had sparked public concerns about better access to the waterfront, resulting in the ARC asking the ports company to free up Queens Wharf "as soon as practicable", there was no timeframe.
He said the ARC looked forward to wrapping up talks with Auckland City Council to enable notification of a plan change for the Tank Farm from marine industrial use to public space, marine and mixed use. The talks have dragged on for months, bogged down over who will pay for open space and public infrastructure, particularly on the 8ha headland jutting out into the Waitemata Harbour.
Tensions between the councils boiled over last week when Auckland Mayor Dick Hubbard threatened to walk away from the project because the ARC wanted the city council to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars and have a reduced role.
Yesterday, Mr Hubbard welcomed the ARC's latest moves but said "quite a separation" still existed between the parties on price and funding.
"As far as Auckland city is concerned, the ARC's price is still too high and we haven't been able to quantify how much it is prepared to spend on public open space, as per the chairman's offer," he said.
The ARC has proposed a shore-to-shore park on the headland, which Mr Lee has promised to fund.
Mrs Bassett said the new company would have to put a "considerable amount of money in in order to achieve the development".
Money received from the company would go via the ARH to the ARC for spending on public transport and stormwater.
Heart of the City chief executive Alex Swney said anything that won waterfront land from the ports company had to be good but a "wharf-at-a-time" development was only half right.
"We are crying out for a cohesive waterfront plan rather than repeating the embarrassing incremental botch-ups, such as the disaster on the railway land at Quay Park," he said.
Auckland city councillor Doug Armstrong said until such time as the waterfront land was valued at its true worth, Aucklanders would be denied access to central wharves.