What was Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson playing at last week when he claimed his outfit was not told about the roadworks on Quay St? Why did he also say the disruption was causing havoc with freight movements?
How come the proposal to extend Queens Wharf 50 metres further into the harbour has been approved? And why has the first report of the working group looking at the future of upper North Island ports had such a subdued reception?
Mayor Phil Goff hasn't said it, but these things are connected, and not in a good way. If there's one part of town that desperately needs a forward-looking strategy, it's the port. And yet it's riddled with short-termism and game-playing.
Gibson's claim was preposterous on several counts.
Ports of Auckland Ltd (POAL), a company wholly owned by Auckland Council, is represented on all the important planning committees, logistics groups and working parties that deal with progress on the waterfront. Auckland Transport's work schedule for Quay St is only the biggest thing that's happened down there in years and it's simply not credible that POAL did not know about it.
Unless, that is, the POAL representatives – who include Gibson himself, as part of the regular meeting of all council CEOs – are in the habit of falling asleep.
And why is he so upset about Quay St? Container trucks aren't supposed to use that road anyway. Their route out of the port is up through Grafton Gully, on the motorway built for that very purpose.
But Gibson's point was that it's hard for trucks to get to the motorway now because a lot of the Quay St traffic has been diverted onto the Strand, which is the motorway access route.
That's commuters from the eastern suburbs, many of whom are themselves upset about the congestion. At a recent political rally staged by mayoral candidate John Tamihere, one of his campaign committee members, Michelle Boag, explained it all to me with quite impressive ferocity. She said the Quay St work should not be happening, the Strand was impassable and they can't all ride bicycles.
To which I can only say, not true, sadly true but why, and very true.
Auckland Transport's consultation processes slammed
First off, the Quay St work is a combination of critical maintenance (the seawall will collapse if it's not strengthened), valuable underground infrastructure (pipes and cabling to help future proof the city) and redesign of the road. Instead of an arterial route along the quayside, we'll have pedestrian-friendly plazas and walkways and a single lane of traffic each way.
Even if the pedestrianisation was not happening, the other things are necessary. All cities have roadworks. Auckland Transport, and the other relevant agencies, are doing all the work at once, for obvious reasons. It's a good thing.
And the pedestrianisation is a really good thing. Auckland is doing what cities around the world have been doing to their centres and waterfronts for 20 years now: reducing the traffic and reclaiming the public spaces for people.
It's urban evolution. As long as they are clogged with cars, our inner cities are not fit for purpose – any purpose, including driving cars.
Quay St is critical to this evolutionary process in Auckland: when it fills with people, everyone downtown – workers, shoppers and nearly 60,000 residents – will have such a renewed sense of the splendour of being by the water.
Of course, for that to be really true we will also want to be out on the finger wharves. Instead, we'll look through the fence at those massed lines of cars and the monster carriers that shipped them here and the clamour to get the damn things off the wharves will become irresistible, even to timid politicians.
Which, if you ask me, just might be why Tony Gibson doesn't want anybody digging up Quay St. He doesn't want us to get any smart ideas about what's next: the wharves themselves.
It's a hot political issue, this, and even if it wasn't his intention, it's unfortunate Gibson appears to have taken sides. He's supposed to be a neutral public servant.
As for the bottleneck on the Strand, I can only say that Michelle Boag is right, not everyone can or should ride a bicycle. But it's a good thing for a growing number. And so, for heaven's sake, are buses and trains.
If driving on the roads should be efficient for those who need to do it, that can only happen if public transport is efficient for everyone. And the more it's used, the better it gets. One of the many advantages of the eastern suburbs is that they already have some of the best public transport services in the city.
This is not a plot to stop everyone driving. Using public transport, and demanding it keeps getting better, is simply the reality of life in a fast-growing city.
Don't like getting stuck in traffic? Maybe you don't need to be. The local eastern suburbs councillor, Desley Simpson, could play a leading role in explaining this to her sceptical constituents, of whom there are a few.
Meanwhile the first report of the Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy has pointed the finger at those imported cars on the wharves. Mayor Goff says blah blah strategy is important but let's not be rushed and don't forget the port pays a dividend of $50 million a year. Tamihere hasn't said anything.
There'll be lots more debate about this, but please, could we not get stuck on the $50 million? That land is worth billions and you could put almost any other commercial operation on a small part of it and get a better return.
The big issues are to do with strategic economic planning for the city and the region, and therefore the country. And about the values – economic, environmental, social and cultural – we want to place on that land.
With the used cars, as with the roadworks on Quay St, what we've been missing is the political leadership to focus on those big issues.
Another waterfront example: the recent decision of independent commissioners to allow the council to build its mooring dolphins at the end of Queens Wharf.
There's a widespread belief that commissioners in such matters decide what's right. That's not so. Their job, put simply, was to accept that the council wants to build the dolphins, and to decide whether it could meet its objectives, within its own planning goals, without materially compromising the environment.
In other words, to check the lawyers had done their work properly.
That's different from deciding, say, what our best long-term interests might be. Or if another way of solving the problem might be better.
And what are the council's goals in this matter? To allow super-cruisers to tie up at the dock, without impeding the other existing operations of the port.
What we need is not commissioners rubber-stamping the work of clever lawyers. We need a mayor who will stand by his promise not to let the port extend any further into the harbour.
We need a mayor and councillors who are able to embrace a big strategic plan for the waterfront, for the use of public space, for related freight and transport issues, and most importantly to become, not a disengaged observer, but the champion of that plan.
And we need a council that can swiftly pull into line any rogue employees, including the CEOs of council-owned organisations, who choose to snipe publicly from the sidelines.