Auckland's waterfront is besieged by development at the moment. Almost everywhere you look or try to walk on Quay St, Lower Queen St, Queens Wharf, The Viaduct and Hobson Wharf is either dug up, under cranes, being reclaimed or otherwise banned for pedestrians.
Harbourside public space, access and amenity has never been under greater attack with barely a peep from those in control at Auckland Council. Princes Wharf is dominated by private real estate interests now and its use as a cruise ship terminal has steadily declined. Queens Wharf's use as a public space is threatened on one side by expanding ferry terminals, and on its other side and end by services to meet expanding cruise ship demands.
Ports of Auckland's corporate revenues appear to focus on vehicle imports and rents, rather than container shipping – its Ferguson terminal has new cranes and been expanded at great cost, yet this year very few ships have unloaded.
It is useful to appreciate why intrusions like these on waterfront public amenity do not happen in Wellington.
Twenty years ago, in response to public concerns, Mayor Mark Blumsky called for a moritorium on further waterfront development pending a thorough community consultation exercise. It contained representatives from the building industry, yacht owners, Civic Trust, Tourism Wellington, Chamber of Commerce, Institute of Architects, Historic Places Trust and residents, and was supported by the council's Urban Design unit.
Among other decisions, the consultation recommended: Future development of Lambton harbour area needs to focus on meeting the needs of Wellington people first and foremost. Only then should it look at the requirements of visitors and tourists; public space areas should be designed first, with commercial built environment to follow. These recommendations have informed all Wellington waterfront policy decisions since. Public space has top priority, then transport, then commercial development.
Auckland's City Centre Master Plan is currently being "refreshed", providing an opportunity for Auckland Council to reconsider its city centre waterfront priorities. I relied upon it and went to the Environment Court with others to retain Queen Elizabeth Square as a public open space after Auckland Council decided to sell it to developers. We lost and Queen Elizabeth Square is gone to become a shopping mall featuring Zara.
In effect, Auckland Council's priorities for our city centre and waterfront, put commercial development first, followed by transport (public and private), with public open space last. The opposite is the case in Wellington.
Another critical difference between waterfront regeneration in Wellington and Auckland has been the roles played by the respective port companies. Ports of Wellington transferred ownership of all surplus lands and structures in one transaction, enabling for integrated whole-of-waterfront planning. In contrast Ports of Auckland has become a developer and incrementally sold and transferred property rights while retaining leasehold and berthing rights and revenues.
Ports of Auckland's corporate revenues appear to focus on vehicle imports and rents, rather than container shipping – its Ferguson terminal has new cranes and been expanded at great cost, yet this year very few ships have unloaded. Its intensive use of Bledisloe and Captain Cook wharves for its second-hand car business makes it difficult to shift the cruise ship terminal there and retain and enhance good public amenity on Queens Wharf.
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Just as questions need to be asked about council priorities in downtown Auckland, so too do questions need to be asked about the background influence and growing presence there of Ports of Auckland.
Please, Auckland Council, stand up for our public waterfront spaces.
• Joel Cayford is the New Zealand Planning Institute policy adviser and a former city and regional councillor. He writes here in a personal capacity.