Political pressure is coming on Auckland Mayor Phil Goff to stop more concrete being poured into the Waitemata Harbour to build an 90m extension on Queens Wharf.
Goff favours a fixed gangway connected to two large 15m by 15m concrete mooring structures fixed to the seabed - known as dolphins - at the end of the wharf.
The $10 million project will allow mega-cruise ships to berth at Queens Wharf, instead of having to anchor in the harbour, and has the backing of the cruise ship industry, council officers and Ports of Auckland.
It seems nuts that people can't access the space and enjoy it
The mayor's support for the project has disappointed a range of community and urban design groups, who want him to step back from increasing the industrialisation of Queens Wharf.
They also want him to stick to an election promise of no further expansion into the harbour.
Groups opposed to the project include Stop Stealing Our Harbour, Urban Auckland, the Auckland Architectural Association, Civic Trust, City Centre Residents' Group, Parnell Residents' Group, Devonport Heritage and Splice, a central city community group.
Group spokeswoman Julie Stout said Aucklanders deserved better than an ad hoc, unnecessary and environmentally costly landing strip that would be an eyesore for the next 35 years.
That is how long the council's development arm, Panuku, is seeking for the dolphins in a resource consent application. The group wants Aucklanders to oppose the planned expansion into the harbour by making submissions on the consent by October 8.
Stout said Queens Wharf was purchased by the former Auckland Regional Council and the Government for $20 million each in 1999, with the aim of it becoming the "People's Wharf".
Kirstina Pickford, of the City Centre Residents' Group, said Queens Wharf had not functioned well as the "People's Wharf" until now and offered amazing opportunities to become a quality public space.
"It seems nuts that people can't access the space and enjoy it," she said.
Stout said Aucklanders were being "sold a pup" with the ad hoc plan and should stick with planning documents which propose extending Captain Cook Wharf, to the east of Queens Wharf, as the main cruise ship terminal.
The group is also appalled at the economic justification for the wharf extension by Market Economics, "who are consultants to the New Zealand cruise industry".
Stout said independent analysis showed the economic benefits had been exaggerated and the environmental impact understated.
But Goff told the Weekend Herald he wasn't budging from his vote in November last year to support the dolphin project.
He acknowledged there was no certainty about when Captain Cook Wharf would be extended as the main cruise ship terminal, saying something needed to be done to "tide us over".
Goff said the council felt the economic arguments and benefits to jobs in Auckland justified having the dolphin system, with a longer-term solution on Captain Cook Wharf. The walkway was requested by the Harbourmaster for health and safety reasons, he said.
"Neither council or I can ignore that jobs are at stake, the economy of Auckland is being significantly benefited by an expanding cruise ship industry ... and [we] decided the environmental impact was not of a scale and nature that outweighed the economic benefit from a growing cruise ship industry that was worth $434 million to New Zealand last year," said Goff.
The mayor said he opposed Ports of Auckland having quite major reclamation out into the harbour, but believed the dolphins fell outside his election promise.
He noted opponents of the dolphins were not opposed to extending Captain Cook Wharf for large cruise ships, which would have greater impact on the harbour than two mooring buoys - as he described them - that couldbe removed.
Kevin O'Sullivan, chief executive of the NZ Cruise Association, told the Herald this month that the industry needed to get the resource consent "done and dusted" for the dolphins to be built in time for the 2019-20 cruise season.
He said the dolphins were not just about Auckland, but the wider New Zealand cruise market, given that Auckland is the gateway to New Zealand.
"Without that critical infrastructure it is difficult for the rest of New Zealand.
"There is already interest from various companies who want to come [to New Zealand] but it is critical on having adequate infrastructure," O'Sullivan said.
Planning committee chairman and North Shore councillor Chris Darby welcomed the challenge from the groups.
"This application has to be tested and I think Urban Auckland and Stop Stealing Our Harbour are capable of bringing good evidence to the challenge. I'm on their side," Darby said.
How councillors voted on the dolphin project
Mayor Phil Goff
Deputy Mayor Bill Cashmore