How magnificent. And how frustrating too. The proposed new waterfront stadium – and the proposed development it's a part of – looks like the most exciting new project Auckland has seen in years.

It has environmental appeal, architectural splendour and far-reaching potential to enhance the waterfront and the rest of the downtown area. The stadium is wrapped around with public space, open to all. It will be terrific not just for big sporting events but for concerts and other events.

It has the potential to be the making of our waterfront, the great public amenity Auckland deserves – and it won't cost us a cent. Hooray.


But. It's the second bold plan for the downtown waterfront we've seen this year, following Archimedia's proposal in May. That one called for mixed development on the whole port site, with a stadium over the road next to the Spark Arena.

Both join a longer list of bold new plans from previous years. Ports of Auckland produced one in November last year, with a hotel and a car park building covered in grass.

Nothing is happening with any of them. The council has its own bold City Centre and Waterfront Masterplan, last updated only in August last year, and even that seems moribund.

I assume there's a basement in the council building where all these plans by visionary, entrepreneurial Aucklanders go to die. Locked away, guarded by gnarly old gatekeepers, their giant rusty keyrings swinging from their belts as they prowl the corridors, rubbing their hands and muttering gleefully. Business as usual, death to the imagination, nothing precious here at all. You people with your bright ideas can just bugger off.

How are we going to fix that? There's only one way and it's called political leadership. Every good big idea anyone produces in this city will die unless leading politicians become its champion.

So how about it, Mayor Goff? Prime Minister Ardern? Finance Minister who is also Sports Minister Robertson? I'm not saying you have to endorse this plan. You may want something different, you may want something better. Fair enough.

But you must want something.

This is an inspired proposal to add a great asset to our city and it will not cost us anything. So if not this, then what? It deserves – we deserve – more than the mayor telling us "that's nice dear" and chucking the thing to those dungeon guards of the good ideas.


Because it's not as if he has any other big proposals on the go. The big transport plans are Government-run, not council run. Len Brown had the City Rail Link and he made it happen. But Phil Goff doesn't have any big ideas to call his own. Time to change that, Phil.

Okay. How good is this proposal?

Start with this. It redefines the waterfront, wrenching the focus back from Wynyard Quarter, which is superb in itself but has obscured the need for a vibrant public space directly adjacent to downtown Auckland.

Quay St should be the heart of our waterfront and this proposal achieves that. The creation of a new park on what is now Bledisloe Wharf provides an eastern bookend to the public space that will run all the way along to the proposed new park at the western end, on Wynyard Point where the Tank Farm is now.

You'll be able to walk all the way round the stadium without buying a ticket, making full use of the terraced steps that lead down into the water. It's like the Molo in Venice, the ghat on the Ganges at Varanasi, the very popular steps at Karanga Plaza at the start of Wynyard.

Launch your kayak, have a picnic, watch the boats on the water, go for a swim.

Those steps also offer protection from the sea. The consortium says they're higher than the crown agency GNS Science expects any tsunami would reach, but I'm guessing another metre or so wouldn't hurt.

The stadium is right by the city's main transport hub, allowing easy interchange to trains, buses and ferries. And it looks, I think, lovely.

Standing on Quay St, you can see right through it. The main visual problem of stadiums, that they present boring blank walls to everyone on the outside, is eliminated because the seating and playing field are sunk. In the highest last row at the back, you'll still be only at street level. (For more analysis of the stadium design, see the Weekend Herald tomorrow.)

The proposal is cost neutral for ratepayers and taxpayers. That's excellent. It gets rid of the damn cars off the wharf – they're proposing using Onehunga Wharf, which is certainly an idea worth exploring, although it's not the only option. It will result in better uses of the land than we currently manage on Bledisloe and at Eden Park.

The proposal essentially involves the city handing public assets to private interests, in return for gaining some new public assets. While the stadium will be run by a trust just as Eden Park is now, the profits from the commercial development of the rest of Bledisloe and the Eden Park land will be privatised.

Is that a problem? I don't think so, because the public will be the winner. But it's controversial. Let's have the debate.

But there is another problem. Almost unbelievably, the whole proposal has been developed without input from mana whenua.

The consortium say they intend to talk to Ngāti Whātua and other iwi, although one spokesperson told me they've had trouble getting any iwi reps to sit down and talk.

Here's the thing. When it comes to development of public land, Māori organisations in Auckland are not a box to tick. They want to be an integral part of the plan.

If they think you're treating them as a box to tick, they will not let you tick it. They don't want to be told what you propose to do. They want to partner up. Work with you; not work for you. Is that hard to grasp?

Think about it this way. Ngāti Whātua has a billion dollars, all of it invested in Auckland property. They have said many times they want to buy the port. They want to be engaged with the development of major public assets on our waterfront. They have the potential to be the developer, or a partner in a development group, that makes this thing happen.

Meanwhile, back to the politicians. The leadership required to make something magnificent on our waterfront, with a stadium, includes the ability to forge a genuine treaty-aligned partnership to get it done.

The next move is yours, Phil Goff. It's election time next year. Wouldn't you like to use your lifetime of political skill and experience to make something really good happen?