Auckland Council has told Ports of Auckland to stop work on two wharf extensions or face the "thermonuclear" option.

With public outrage growing over plans to build wharf extensions nearly 100m into the Waitemata Harbour, the council yesterday took action.

The first step was a letter by council chief executive Stephen Town asking the council body overseeing Ports of Auckland to "encourage" company bosses to halt the extensions until a wide-ranging port study is done.

The second step was a firm message to port bosses to stop being "arrogant" and, in the words of Mayor Len Brown, go through a culture change to become more engaged with the community.

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Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse said the letter contained an "iron fist inside a velvet glove". If all else failed there was a "thermonuclear" option, which she did not spell out.

The ACIL board is due to meet today to discuss the letter. It is understood this will be followed by a meeting between ACIL, ports chairman Graeme Hawkins and ports chief executive Tony Gibson, who is returning from San Francisco.

Asked if the port would consider halting the wharf extensions, Mr Hawkins said the directors would consider what ACIL formally put to it and respond. The company had not given any thought to halting work on the extensions, where enabling work had started, and main work was due to begin this month.

"If Auckland wants to turn the big ships away that is fine, that becomes Auckland's decision, but we don't have very long to cater for them."

Mr Hawkins said if the shipping lines decided on another route, then the port would not do as well as it is did today with the consequence of reduced dividends.

He said the company had complied with the law, accusing a small group taking a legal case against the port of imposing a tax on people in west and south Auckland so as not to see further wharf extensions.

Urban Auckland, a society set up to protect the city's built environment and waterfront, plans to issue proceedings in the High Court at Auckland today challenging the lawfulness of the consents for the extensions.

Michael Goldwater, a spokesman for Stop Stealing Our Harbour, said the port should listen to the message from the council to halt its construction plans.

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He also welcomed a decision by the Auckland Development Committee yesterday to undertake a study into the economic, environmental and social impacts of the port on wider Auckland.

Council moves on port
• Council calls on port to halt wharf extensions

• Wants work to stop until a port study is done

• Ports boss says board will consider the request

• Boss warns of reduced dividends without extensions