Funding approval for a long-awaited $11 million park and public space in Ponsonby has been postponed this week, as Auckland Council vowed greater oversight of its spending.
Auckland Council's Finance and Performance Committee were to vote on funding for the Ponsonby Park development on Thursday, but the item was bumped after the meeting was changed to discuss the Covid-19 response.
A long-awaited detailed business case containing new design options, and a new artist's impression of the civic space set for land at 254 Ponsonby Rd were released this week.
However, on Thursday Auckland Mayor Phil Goff announced greater oversight of all council spending as the next "six months will be very challenging" with the economic impact of coronavirus.
"Councillors are united on the need to expand and enhance oversight of council spending at a time when 'nice-to-haves' may need to be deferred to protect and maintain the essential services that Aucklanders rely on," Goff said.
Auckland Council bought the land at 254 Ponsonby Rd in 2006 with the intention of converting the carpark and bottle shop situated on it now into a dedicated public space.
The preferred design of the 2326sq m space includes a grassed lawn and gardens, a pavilion, an outdoor plaza and lane paved area, an upgrade to bordering O'Neill St, a new retail building, a public toilet block, and refurbishment to an existing one-storey lighthouse structure.
The design for the space was community led and drafted by Auckland landscape architect studio LandLAB.
A preferred design option was approved by the Waitemata Local Board in February, who this week were still highly supportive of it.
"We're really looking forward to it happening. We're very strongly in favour, it will be a great park and plaza," Waitemata Local Board chairman Richard Northey said.
However, the final decision to allot the remaining $5.5m from council's Town Centre Revitalisation funds needed to meet the $11m total cost, lies with the 23-member Finance and Performance Committee.
When the Herald spoke to several of the committee members this week, they were non-committal.
Finance committee chairwoman Auckland councillor Desley Simpson said that "in light of current events we need time to assess".
Committee member and Auckland councillor for the Waitemata Ward Pippa Coom said she "understood the need to postpone the decision" on the 254 Ponsonby Park development.
"I think the project has strong support but every project now has to be considered in light of the evolving crisis and the Annual Budget 20/21 that will now be very different to BAU [business as usual]," Coom said.
Deputy chairman of the committee councillor Shane Henderson said despite the Covid-19 spending oversight, Auckland as a city still had ongoing infrastructure needs, and "things still needed to be built".
"It's something that I would generally support but I haven't put the thought into it now given that we're talking about different circumstances," Henderson said.
An allocation of $5.5 million toward the Ponsonby Park project had already been committed by Auckland Council dependent on the sale of an endowment property at 200 Victoria St West in Auckland CBD.
In the agenda item, it states this funding "is contingent on confirmation by the Auckland Council Legal Services team" and the fact that this council-owned land at 200 Victoria St West hasn't actually been sold yet.
The Finance Committee was to decide on Thursday whether to commit the remaining $5.5m needed to meet the $11m budget.
Council's estimate of the operational cost of 254 Ponsonby Rd public space was $50,000-$70,000 per annum, but they expected to draw $60,000 per annum from commercial rent of the shop space.
Another "risk description" highlighted in the Finance Committee agenda item was that: "the project budget has been allocated and fixed before the design has been developed/completed so actual costs are not yet defined".
Nevertheless, if the funding and construction for the 254 development are approved in April, it is projected for a construction completion date of March 2022.