By BRIAN RUDMAN

On Monday, I suggested that the ideal millennium project for Aucklanders would be the kauri replanting adventure across the gulf on the Coromandel Peninsula.

Consummate lobbyist that he obviously still is, Values Party founder Tony Brunt has come up with a cause closer to home. He wants the Manukau Harbour island of Puketutu to be a regional park.

Millennium project or not, now is certainly the time to act if we want to bring this gem into our network of regional parks.

One reason for the haste is that Watercare Services is rebuilding the adjacent Mangere wastewater treatment plant, and could perhaps be persuaded to dip into the petty cash of the $450 million project to make it happen.

The more pressing reason for action is that Manukau City Council planning commissioners have just approved a major expansion of the island's tourist facilities.

It will include new buildings to house 24 guests, expansion of the existing Kelliher homestead with a dining pavilion, a new kitchen and various service rooms, and construction of a covered swimming pool.

The commissioners have also approved removal of 50 of the 200 well-established trees forming the parkland around the old house.

Tony Brunt, who is chairman of Friends of Puketutu Trust, says this will have a "shattering impact on the beautiful homestead and its heavily wooded environs" and "would compromise the use of the island as a future regional park."

He has been saying this for more than three years, attracting plenty of sympathy but little action.

Now he, the local iwi, and two community groups are appealing to the Environment Court against the decision.

Ngati Whatua chief Kawau sold the 200ha island to Dr Henry Weekes in 1842.

It finally ended up, in 1938, in the hands of beer baron and Social Credit crusader Sir Henry Kelliher.

He built the exotic Spanish-style mansion - now an exclusive restaurant and reception centre - and planted the surrounding semi-tropical parkland.

Sir Henry, who died in 1991, sold the island in 1963 to the Sir Henry Kelliher Charitable Trust.

In the late 1950s, the island became a quarry providing scoria and roading metal to expanding Auckland. The two central volcanic cones, including the one after which the island is named, were destroyed along with many trees, Maori fortifications and garden walls.

The trust, administered by NZ Guardian Trust, now plans to cease quarrying and develop the island's tourist potential.

Brunt lives in Hillsborough, overlooking the Manukau Harbour. He finally saw one too many scoria trucks lugging their load along the causeway and off the island and set up his Friends group.

His idea of a new regional park within 20 minutes' drive of central Auckland and 15 minutes from Manukau City Centre is appealing.

But the little obstacles of finding a willing seller and a cashed-up buyer have to be overcome.

The Guardian Trust doesn't discuss client business, but no doubt, like any prudent trustee, it would look at any offer made to it. I get the impression it has received none.

The regional council is the obvious buyer - parks committee chairman Bill Burrill has said the island is at the top of the new parks wish-list.

But yesterday, council chairman Phil Warren said there was no money in the kitty.

The other possible purchaser could be Watercare, though it too denies any such intention.

But it has more than $100 million to spend on rehabilitating the harbour and surrounding environs after the removal of the old sludge ponds and treatment plant.

The island's 1996 Government valuation is $4,478,000.

If the cost of buying Puketutu somehow became a part of the coastal rehabilitation, I can't see many Aucklanders objecting.