Plans for a $10 million fixed mooring at the end of Queens Wharf to tie up mega-cruise ships should be refused, says a report prepared for Auckland Council's development agency.
The advice is a blow for Mayor Phil Goff, who has angered some of his strongest supporters by siding with the cruise ship industry to pour more concrete into the Waitemata Harbour for commercial use.
Planner Richard Blakey says the positive economic benefits from a 90m fixed gangway and two 15m by 15m concrete mooring structures fixed to the seabed - known as dolphins - are not enough to offset "adverse environmental effects".
The project will allow mega-cruise ships that currently anchor in the harbour to berth at Queen Wharf. The wharf can currently provide for cruise ships up to 294m. The dolphins will allow for ships of up to 362m.
Blakey's advice and recommendations are contained in a report for council's development agency, Panuku, which is seeking resource consent for the dolphins.
The report, reviewed and approved by council's principal lead for premium resource consents Tracey Grant, will be considered by independent planning commissioners hearing the consent application.
"The natural character of the Waitemata Harbour is an important and significant asset to the city of Auckland and is a primary contributor to the existing and future amenity values of Queens Wharf," said Blakey.
He said an economic assessment showing the dolphins would lead to economic benefits growing initially from $10 million to $30m by 2028 placed little or no value on the visual, cultural, heritage or recreation adverse effects.
What's more, Blakey said it is apparent the dolphins will narrow the harbour by a further 10m and affect both commercial ferry services and recreational boaties.
"While the mooring dolphins may solve some issues for cruise ships on the rare occasions they will even be used (about 4 per cent of the year), they create other problems for regular and heavy users of the harbour over the rest of the year," said Blakey, adding the dolphins will also be a navigational hazard, especially at night.
Blakey highlighted a submission from Fullers, which said the proposal will reduce the 15-minute frequency on the Devonport ferry service that carries 1.8 million passengers a year and affect the Waiheke service.
It was not clear what effect this would have on journey times, Blakey said, saying Fullers should provide more details at the hearing.
Goff played down the significance of the report, saying it represented the view of an independent planner and would form part of the hearing process before three independent commissioners to weigh up where the balance lies.
The mayor still believes the balance lies with the economic benefits and extra jobs it will create, saying he would have preferred a simpler solution but was bound by the harbourmaster saying the gangway was needed for health and safety reasons.
The long-term solution, Goff said, is an extension of Captain Cook Wharf, east of Queens Wharf.
The report is encouraging news for a number of community and urban design groups who have been fighting to stop the dolphin proposal and disappointed with Goff, who previously stood alongside them in the fight to stop further expansion of the harbour for port use.
Group spokeswoman, architect Julie Stout said it was a relief that someone at council was listening to the concerns of citizens about their waterfront.
She said the dolphins are an eyesore, industrial in scale, will interfere with ferry and recreational traffic and block views at the end of Queens Wharf.
The groups had questioned the financial viability of the dolphins, she said, adding council should be putting its energy into realising the potential of Queens Wharf and a long-term plan for the waterfront.
Stout said to be fair to Goff he was initially against the dolphins but had come under pressure from the cruise ship industry and council officers into backing the proposal.
"I just hope he takes notice of this report and has another think about it," she said.
Goff said he respected Stout, but had a different view and both of them would have to live with the decisions made by the commissioners and possibly the Environment Court if there is an appeal.
Stop Stealing Our Harbour spokesman Michael Goldwater said the report echoed what the people of Auckland want.
"When will Auckland Council learn that the people of Auckland do not want any more concrete in their harbour?" he asked.