The Queens Wharf design contest is a flop, says Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee.

He says the final eight designs are "lacklustre, underwhelming and mediocre".

In an unusual display of civic unanimity, Auckland City Mayor John Banks did not disagree.

"I have to say I have some sympathy for the proposition Chairman Lee is talking about," he said.

A total of 237 concept designs and 25 team expressions of interest were received for the contest to turn Queens Wharf into a combined cruise ship terminal and "party central" venue for events including the Rugby World Cup in 2011.

A $47 million budget was specified.

The eight finalists were announced last Friday and a winner is expected to be named mid-November.

The co-sponsors of the contest are Auckland City, Auckland Regional Council and the government.

Mr Lee criticised the competitors for retaining the two old wharf sheds because they had "got the message down the back channels that whatever you do, you must keep the sheds if you want to win".

He said that wasn't a condition of the contest, but Auckland City middle managers "are insistent on it".

He and Prime Minister John Key wanted them to go, "and I don't think Banksie's that keen on them either".

They were "cheap and nasty when built and now they're 100 years old, they're cheaper and nastier."

Mr Lee said entrants had lost sight of the need for something inspirational, and he is demanding that "either we go back to the first round and re-assess" the entries, "or we invite more entries".

Mr Banks agreed he wouldn't "die in the ditch" for the cargo sheds.

He was disappointed with the contest entries, "but I don't want to be critical to the extent that I don't have anything of more genius to offer".

"I have not yet jumped to a conclusion that the whole show has been a waste of time, because at the very least, at not very great cost, we have got people thinking of this."