Coronavirus has a "silver lining", says an Auckland councillor: a $30 million plan to extend cruise ship mooring capacity into the city's harbour can be scrapped.
The council has announced that the project, planned by its Panuku Development Auckland, has been put on hold.
But council planning committee chairman Chris Darby said there was no doubt about the scrapping of the docking extensions for big cruise liners -- known as "dolphins" -- in the midst of the pandemic.
"The tide has gone out on international tourism with, one category hit harder than any other," said Darby. "Now referred to as floating petri-dishes of disease, the attraction of taking a cruise ship in your golden years has hit lowest astronomical tide."
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"The silver lining is Auckland Council can now extinguish the controversial idea of a Queens Wharf mooring dolphin and bank the estimated $30m cost in favour of ratepayers."
Barry Potter, the council's director of infrastructure and environmental services, said that pause was pushed on the scheme in early December.
"Auckland Council made a request to the Environment Court on December 6 to place the next hearing of appeals on the mooring dolphin resource consent on hold. This request was agreed to by all parties in light of the broader strategic planning discussions around the future of Auckland's waterfront," Potter said.
All the parties accepted that more time was needed for discussions and consideration of "credible alternatives before hearings continue".
Everything is now on hold until June 12 - time needed for everyone to deal with the impacts of Covid-19, he said.
Opponents of plans for the 90.3m-long concrete structure into Auckland's harbour filed 283 submissions but backers made 44 submissions in support, many saying the concrete extensions were crucial to the city's infrastructure.
Julie Stout, chair of Urban Auckland which strongly opposed the project, said: "We would be very pleased if there was no extension into the harbour, as we've been arguing against it for three years. We've been working with the Ports of Auckland, the cruise ship industry and Mayor Phil Goff to try to find alternative solutions."
The pressure to accommodate big ships with such a scheme may well have reduced given the pandemic, she said, and cases such as the Ruby Princess.
"But a long-term solution might possibly still be required. In five years' time, might people return to cruise ships?" she asked.
Stout paid tribute to the cruise ship industry, saying it had been helpful to hold discussions about alternative solutions and the industry's future might not be as dire as Darby suggested.
"Who knows what will happen?" said Stout.
Last April, independent commissioners granted resource consent for Queens Wharf to be extended for huge cruise ships by building the mooring dolphins.
Submissions in support cited the need to accommodate the increased berth requirements for larger cruise ships and to improve facilities for passengers, as well as pointing to the economic benefits from the new infrastructure. Opponents decried adverse cultural, heritage, navigation, operational and visual effects, and disagreed with the applicant's economic case.
Paul Glass, of Devon Funds Management, said last year that Auckland's harbour was the city's most precious resource and needed to be protected.
"There has been too much infill already, which is turning our inner harbour into a tidal river. It is environmental vandalism, as are the port's new 82m high cranes which block views out to the islands, and the proposed multi-story carpark," Glass said.
The structure was not needed, he said. "On the few occasions that these very large cruise ships visit, they can continue to ferry passengers to shore as they do elsewhere in the world," Glass said.
Goff has supported the project, disappointing a range of community and urban design groups, who want him to step back from increasing the industrialisation of Queens Wharf. Ferry company Fullers opposed the project on the basis that the harbour would be narrowed, the dolphins would affect tidal flow, extend the 5-knot speed limit into the harbour and be a navigation hazard.
The report on the proposal noted claims that the project was planned for a "highly modified area of the waterfront" and the extent of the project would be minimised by the design and use of materials in keeping with the area's character.
"The proposal is needed to safely berth extra-large cruise ships and avoid the need to tender passengers ashore which introduces risk to the health and safety of passengers," the report said.