Auckland's waterfront: America's Cup is the catalyst, but there's a bigger picture, writes Bill Bennett.

Over the next three years the Wynyard Quarter and Auckland's waterfront faces further transformation as the city prepares to host the 2021 America's Cup. Yet short-term changes are part of bigger 30-year vision.

Rod Marler, Panuku head of Design and Place, says; "We have a waterfront plan document that was endorsed in 2012. It sets a vision for Auckland's waterfront until 2040.

The plan revisits all the previous thinking over the previous 15 years, brings it to life and makes it more relevant. It is going through another refresh now that picks up the recent activity."


Panuku's mandated area on the city waterfront runs from just west of the Harbour Bridge to Teal Park, which is just before Hobson Bay. It doesn't include the area under port control. Panuku can advocate in this area, but doesn't have jurisdiction there.

Marler says; "We call it a thick edge. It's not just where the land meets the sea. We influence the area, like a city block back from that. There's also the water space. That's the technical licenced piece of water which various operators have a licence to occupy. This includes the port but also covers cruise ships, fishing boats and so on."

The waterfront plan has goals for the environmental aspects of the waterfront, its use for connectivity, creating a great place and making the waterfront somewhere people can live, work and play. There is also a goal to ensuring that the council engages with mana whenua.

Marler says of all those goals, the most progressive to date have been in Panuku's relations with mana whenua.

There are issues that are beyond Panuku's brief, such as dealing with the treaty settlements negotiated between each of the iwi and central Government. But on another level when it comes to conversations about governance there has been significant advancement.

Allan Young, Panuku's director of development says: "The relationship is one of mutual respect. With large projects like the America's Cup there are differing points of view. Some are firmly in support, others are neutral in their approach, but they certainly see the wider benefits for Auckland and the country as a whole when it comes to these catalytic projects." He says that simple things are working such as meeting frequency and structure. "We've found plain, simple communications to all the parties is paramount," he says.

Marler says Maori values underpin a lot of Panuku's thinking. He says they bring a deep history and understanding of the place, the geography and how human occupation can work in harmony with the land. "It provides us with a great source of inspiration", he says.

The relationship with mana whenua brings a unique local perspective to Auckland's waterfront development. Marler says there are regular monthly hui at both project and governance level. He says a set of Te Aranga design principles have been agreed between mana whenua and council.

Proposed regional park on Wynyard Quarter.
Proposed regional park on Wynyard Quarter.

"This talks to the spirituality and the sense of place. It's not just putting lipstick on the pig, which is what has happened sometimes in the past. This is deeper and fundamental."

This ties in with Panuku's purpose with its waterfront plan. Marler says; "It's not only about creating a space. We're doing this for the people, the people of Auckland and for all of New Zealand. It's a people-led initiative.

"There's no other council agency that can do this work and balance the Council's spend, its responsibility for infrastructure with the needs of the community and our manu whenua partners. We're constantly balancing all these variables along with the cultural, environmental and economic aspects. It's a challenge. The waterfront is the jewel in the crown, everybody wants to have a say."

He says waterfront cities around the world are important. They are culturally and socially valuable. On one level Auckland is no different, but then there is the America's Cup and that brings urgency to the development project.

Young says: "It's the way things happen in Auckland. There's a major event, activity leapfrogs, there's a pause, then it happens again. We saw this with the Rugby World Cup and the original America's Cup. Organisations here are good at responding to these events and funding them.

"This time we've not just got an America's Cup in 2021, we've got Apec as well. Two large events where the international focus will be on us.

What's clear is the next three years will leave the city with an America's Cup base that will be able to cope with the next three events. It'll be developed at Hobson Wharf and the bottom half of Wynyard Wharf." Young says the plan also takes into account how to use the space between America's Cup competitions.

"It's a large area. It's open and it's adjacent to North Wharf. The last of the Tank Farm will come down during that period. We want to activate the area as a public realm. It feeds back into our discussions about how that waterfront area is going to be used over time. But we also need to keep it ready for future America's Cup competitions."

He says; "A lot of eyes are on the America's Cup at the moment, but we also got development agreements with Precinct Properties and Willis Bond. There's Commercial Bay, but there's also our agreement with Precinct for 10 Maddon Street, that's a commercial building that will be complete in late 2020. There's also 30 Maddon Street, a residential development with Willis Bond that'll also be ready in late 2020. We've also a commercial development for the marine industry that'll be ready by December 2020.

"They will all open up at around the time the America's Cup teams are opening up towards the end of 2020. There's a natural momentum to get to the end point. Then there's a lull before Apec."

Longer term, Marler says Panuk plans to deliver a 4.5ha public open space which, for now, is called Wynyard Point Park.

"It will be a significant gesture to the people of Auckland and to New Zealand; a piece of land that sits out as far as you can get into the harbour. You'll be able to enjoy an intimate marine environment with all the activity going on around it."