Aucklanders — and their elected councillors — have good reason to thank Economic Development Minister David Parker for sticking his oar into the America's Cup base debate and arguing for a commonsense alternative to the bureaucrats' gold-plated dream scheme.
Parker and his officials have adopted the option Mayor Phil Goff himself canvassed back in the middle of last year. That was to persuade the leaseholder of the tank farm at the south end of Wynyard Point to move out a year or two earlier than their lease required, and build the bases there. Goff said at the time, the deal could be done for around $20 million.
Team New Zealand and Panuku, the council organisation in charge of waterfront development, strongly opposed this. They wanted to open the council and government cheque books and build major new wharf extensions to accommodate this one-off event. Somehow they persuaded Goff his option was not possible.
A majority of councillors then voted to back the Panuku proposal.
Luckily, Parker's team called Panuku's bluff and are begging to differ. They say an on-land solution is possible. Parker has an in-principle agreement from the leaseholder, Stolthaven, to move its hazardous facilities in the southern tank farm to make way for the cup village. The ASB Bank has also agreed to make its neighbouring carpark area available, subject to alternative parking being provided elsewhere. Parker says if the Stolthaven deal could be finalised, the wharf extension plans "is then rendered unnecessary".
It is understood the lease buy-back could cost less than half the $20m Goff suggested. Stolthaven would include in the deal the removal of the underground fuel pipes at the side of Wynyard wharf, which currently connect Stolthaven's two tank farms. Under Panuku's preferred option, at least two bases are sited over these potentially dangerous pipelines, requiring a deal with Stolthaven to remove them anyway.
Two weeks ago, Panuku quietly revealed, in the depths of the summer holidays, that its main game was not the America's Cup regatta, but a new grand plan for the waterfront. It lodged resource consent applications not just for extending Halsey and Hobson wharves, but also for permission to create a new multi-wharf harbour on the western side of Wynyard Point to rehouse the fishing fleet and the gulf vehicular ferries.
It's seeking permission to dredge 10,000 cubic metres to a depth of up to 6.2m to the west of Wynyard Point, to build two new wharves, 100m long by 13.5m, plus floating pontoon facilities for the Sealink ferries. These facilities will also require vast hard-sealed areas for parking.
One of the triumphs of the waterfront regeneration in recent years was the retention of the ferries and fishing fleet. It provides life and vigour and rawness, and a link to the working port, the original engine room of Auckland. This approach to waterfront redevelopment won the inaugural World Architecture News Urban Regeneration Award.
But unfortunately, Panuku prefers super yachts to fishy smells and says the fishing fleet and the ferries have to go pronto, "to facilitate the America's Cup base infrastructure requirement". It says Sealink supports the move while "discussions with the fishing industry are ongoing".
It adds "Post event, the fishing industry may remain at the facility or fully or partially return to Halsey St extension wharf and western viaduct wharf." What that means is anyone's guess. Especially as Panuku is seeking a resource consent to house eight "temporary" America's Cup bases for a 10-year period.
With the aid of their crystal ball, the bureaucrats are betting our money on Team New Zealand winning not one but at least the next two America's Cup regattas. Based on this gamble they want to extend two wharves into the sea and plonk eight team bases, each with view-blocking sheds 15m high and surrounded by fences and hard surfaces, for up to 10 years. Not to forget berthage for up to 30 super yachts.
It's not often I welcome a government minister poking his nose into Auckland matters, but with the local bureaucrats gone feral, and the political leadership lacking, on this occasion I say thank goodness for David Parker.