Auckland councillors will make a huge call behind closed doors on Thursday on whether to stand firm against further reclamation of the Waitemata Harbour for port use.
The council is under pressure to relax the rules for the Super City to allow its 100 per cent-owned port company to reclaim more of the harbour.
The council is facing legal moves by supporters of port expansion and a push by council bureaucrats to approve reclamation for a carpark.
Last night, Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse said councillors had to make a call for legal reasons, but the decision would be made public by the end of this month.
The council has been forced into mediation over its stand against further reclamation in the draft Unitary Plan, or new planning rulebook. Last year, the council made further reclamation a "non-complying" activity prohibiting reclamation, upsetting Ports of Auckland and other business groups.
A council-commissioned study said the port firm may need more wharf space for bulk cargo, putting pressure on the council to relax its position.
Mayor Len Brown said he had never supported further harbour reclamation and believed the solution to get goods off the wharves lay in technological improvements and better rail and roads.
He refused to say if he would back a relaxation of the rules on reclamation, saying it was subject to the legal process of deciding port zoning.
Speaking to an officers' proposal to turn the port-owned Captain Cook wharf into a cruise ship terminal in exchange for a 3ha reclamation on Bledisloe wharf, Mr Brown said he supported high-quality development of the water for public use.
Council officers say developing Captain Cook wharf for cruise ships will affect the Ports of Auckland's ability to handle the growth of bulk cargo, of which motor vehicles account for 45 per cent.
A ports spokesman said the wharves were not used to "store" cars, but to move them as soon as possible.
He said a large area of back-up space was needed because the big car ships could drop off up to 2000 cars, and up to five or six ships could arrive within a couple of days.
Councillors are being asked to endorse a new strategy that would require demolishing Marsden Wharf to accommodate two cruise ships, one either side of the wharf.
Princes Wharf would be used as a spillover when three cruise ships were in. If the plan is endorsed, more work will be done on timing and costs.