Auckland Council has finally resolved to abandon the controversial $16.9 million mooring dolphin attachment to Queens Wharf to allow mega-cruise ships to dock here.
The decision was made at a confidential "emergency budget" meeting today, as the 20 councillors made calls on which major projects they would slash to fill the $550 million hole in the council's revenue created by Covid-19.
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The Herald was informed yesterday morning by a source that the proposal to add a 90-metre extension to Queens Wharf had been sunk for good.
The dolphin had been a problematic project since its conception in 2017, reportedly ballooning in cost to double its official price tag of $16.9m and being repeatedly delayed.
The dolphin had originally been scheduled to be constructed by late 2020 as one of six major construction projects in Auckland Transport's Downtown Programme to transform the city's waterfront for the America's Cup.
However, the mooring dolphin's consent was challenged in the Environment Court by Ngāti Whātua and various urban design organisations who opposed its further incursion into Waitematā Harbour.
Lobby group Urban Auckland president Julie Stout was one of those leading the Environment Court challenge, and had also independently been made aware of the decision today.
"I'm delighted, finally. It was very obvious virtually all parties did not want the dolphin," Stout said.
"We took the case to the Environment Court and part of that was a mediation process at which point we managed to get a deferment."
The Environment Court challenge had originally been scheduled to be heard in March 2020, but in December 2019 that was deferred in favour of informal discussions with the council and the Ports of Auckland.
"We managed to get all the parties around the table without lawyers, and it was very quickly apparent that virtually no one wanted the dolphin apart from the Ports of Auckland and the harbourmaster," Stout said.
"Our discussions will continue with everybody about what happens down at the waterfront for the cruise industry. Even though they've disappeared for now I'm sure they'll be back."
The Ports of Auckland declined to comment until the Auckland Council had made any official announcement on the dolphin's future.
The Auckland Council would not confirm to the Herald whether the mooring dolphin project had been scrapped today, adding there were still legal processes that needed to be undertaken regardless of what decision had been made.
"The Emergency Committee of Auckland Council received an update on the Queens Wharf mooring dolphin today," a council spokesperson said.
"The item was discussed by councillors in confidential [meeting] because the matter is still before the Environment Court.
"The next reporting date for the appeal to the mooring dolphin's resource consent application is June 12."
While cruise ships are not expected back in Auckland any time soon with the Covid-19 border closure, the original purpose of the dolphin had been to allow 320m-plus cruise ships, carrying about 4500 tourists each, to dock.
These mega-ships are able to dock at Dunedin, Lyttelton, Picton, Wellington, Napier and Tauranga ports, but not Auckland where they can only anchor in the harbour.
The purpose of today's emergency Auckland Council meeting was to balance the budget, or thereabouts, for when it goes out for public consultation on Friday, which is a requirement by law.
In a statement to the New Zealand Stock Exchange last week, the Auckland Council said many capital investments will be delayed or slowed down and a sell-off of non-strategic assets will be ramped up.
Mayor Phil Goff said Auckland was facing probably the biggest loss of revenue any council has experienced, warning there is no easy way to find half a billion dollars of lost revenue.
"We are going to have to take tough decisions. This is an extraordinary, unprecedented situation," he said.
"The bigger the revenue loss is and the smaller the rates rise is, the more services and capital projects would have to be deferred. That's the balancing act councillors are looking to do."