Auckland Council has voted to delay a decision on a central wharf strategy that involves further reclamation of the Waitemata Harbour.
Instead of endorsing the strategy, the council has asked staff to do more detailed work and involve interested groups and the public.
The strategy includes a new cruise ship terminal on Captain Cook wharf.
To compensate for the loss of the wharf space the port company wants to reclaim 3ha of seabed at the northern end of Bledisloe Wharf.
This follows a revelation that the council approved two large wharf extensions into Waitemata Harbour late last year without notifying the public or councillors.
Planning commissioners approved the additions to Bledisloe Wharf on the grounds they were positive and had no adverse impact.
The full council, meeting as the Auckland development committee, was asked to consider two issues that could lead to further reclamation.
The first was to endorse a "central wharves strategy" that includes a new cruise ship terminal on the Captain Cook Wharf.
The second issue, being held in secret, is for the council to decide its position for mediation on zoning in the port precinct.
Last August the council voted to make further reclamation a "non-complying" activity in the draft Unitary Plan.
Armed with an economic report from New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) saying more wharf space will be needed, the council is under pressure to relax the zoning and make it a "discretionary activity".
This would allow the port company to apply for resource consent for further reclamation.
Councillors are also being asked to permit the port company to reclaim another 2ha of harbour every 10 years.
Several groups, including Heart of the City, Ngati Whatua and Urban Auckland have told the councillors about their concerns.
Heart of the City centre manager Tania Loveridge said the central wharves strategy was well considered, but further reclamation was just one of a number of options that needs to be tested and explored.
Ms Loveridge and Luke Niue, of the Parnell community group, said the NZIER report took no account of the environmental and social impacts of port expansion.
"Maintaining a non-complying status makes the best sense as there needs to be a stronger test before reclamation is carried out," she said.
Rob Hutchison, who heads Ngati Whatua's investment arm Whai Rawa, said there had not been sufficient focus on the negative impacts of further port reclamation.
There was no need for the Unitary Plan process to be used to fast-track the expansion aspirations of Ports of Auckland, he said.
Labour's Auckland Issues spokesman Phil Goff told the Herald he was emphatically against 20ha more of the harbour being reclaimed, saying he did not accept the expansion of Bledisloe wharf was the only way to make provision for cruise ships.
Mr Goff, who is sniffing out a possible challenge against Mayor Len Brown next year, said he was speaking as Auckland issues spokesman.
A ports spokesman said the company supported the central wharves strategy because it provided more room for ferries, freight, cruise ships and people.
"It's a win win."
"Our land area has been shrinking for years while Auckland has been growing like crazy and freight volumes have gone through the roof.
""We need more land so, yes, we would like the planning rules around reclamation to be returned to their previous status so we can apply for resource consent," the spokesman said.
In a joint presentation by Heart of the City, Ngati Whatua and Urban Auckland, the groups said the Waitemata Harbour warrants great care.
"The harbour is a particularly sensitive coastal environment.
"We believe the city centre port precinct should be treated differently to other foreshore areas within Auckland due to its prominent position at the edge of Auckland's CBD and the nature of the activities undertaken within the port precinct."
Planner Dr Joel Cayford said the ports company's focus was on meeting its own objectives at the expense of the broader public interests.
This needed to be recognised and resisted, he said.