Editorial: Functional cruise ship amenity vital

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Photo / Sarah Ivey
Photo / Sarah Ivey

Pretty much only one thing has remained constant during the debate over a cruise-ship terminal appropriate for Auckland.

That is Cruise New Zealand's view that a tarted-up Shed 10 on Queens Wharf could provide a functional amenity for passengers and crew.

As much seems finally to be on the cards with the council's waterfront agency seeking expressions of interest from architects for just this. The problem is that, in the space of four months, Mayor Len Brown's estimated $6 million cost has shot up to $28.7 million. Tarting up suddenly involves a relatively hefty price tag for ratepayers.

That may be money well spent if the terminal gives the rapidly growing number of cruise-ship tourists a welcoming taste of what Auckland and New Zealand has to offer. It is also far more reasonable than some of the more extravagant plans, not least Mr Brown's original plan to build the terminal on Captain Cook Wharf. That would have cost up to $200 million.

Nonetheless, ratepayers have reason to feel miffed that they, not Ports of Auckland, are paying for a commercial enterprise.

The reason dates back to the 2009 deal under which the port company sold Queens Wharf to the Government and the Auckland Regional Council for $40 million, the cost split evenly. The politicians agreed to build a cruise-ship terminal at no cost to Ports of Auckland.

The company, in return, would allow public access to the wharf as long as it did not affect cruise-ship activities, and look after maintenance and dredging.

This seems to have been a bargain for Ports of Auckland. Despite the inadequacies of the Princes Wharf terminal and the increasing number of cruise ships, it had not invested in a new facility.

Presumably, it always hoped public funding would provide one.

Now, there seems no way for Mr Brown to renege on the deal. He must, however, try to lever as much as possible from the port company in terms of spending.

Ports of Auckland now says it will pay the operating costs for the terminal when it is being used as a cruise-ship base, and spend "several million dollars" on a permanent gangway.

That aside, ratepayers' only succour lies in the economic benefit to the region of the 150,000-plus passengers who will pass through the terminal each year.

This means the mayor must pay particular attention to public access, the most important side of the deal from the regional council's perspective.

On no account must people be prohibited for no good reason. It should be remembered that the attractiveness of a public open space on Queens Wharf was, in fact, one of Mr Brown's main reasons for favouring Captain Cook for the terminal.

Ports of Auckland says the Queens Wharf terminal would be required by it for only about 100 days a year. For the bulk of the year, it would revert to public use.

Given that, it is important public events and entertainment are accorded a strong priority in the terminal design.

Making "modest, medium-term improvements" to Shed 10 is the right decision.

Cruise ships do not need elaborate embarkation amenities. Many ports do without them. Two factors are now paramount. The cost to ratepayers must be constrained as far as possible, and public access to what is limited space on the Auckland waterfront must be guaranteed as far as possible.

- NZ Herald

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