Last week the Auckland Council's development arm, Panuku Development Auckland, lodged a resource consent for a significant extension into the harbour on Halsey and Hobson Wharfs to house the syndicate bases for the 2021 America's Cup.
This week Economic Development Minister David Parker indicated the Government favours the Wynyard Pt tank farm as a viable option and one that will save the taxpayer tens of millions of dollars and continue the de-industrialisation of Auckland's waterfront originally envisaged by Sir Peter Blake.
So what's going on? Why is the council so out of step with the Government and why are we continuing to see such poor waterfront decision-making processes?
In 2015, the council-owned Ports of Auckland attempted to build two major finger wharf extensions into the harbour. The port's attempts to get the wharf consents approved under the radar, without public scrutiny, backfired and were deemed "not legal" by the High Court.
Move on to 2017/8 and yet again the public have another unexplained major intrusion into their harbour about to be foisted on them. And to rub salt into the wound, at the very meeting Panuku's dubious America's Cup plans were approved by the council, two massive so-called "dolphins" and an 85m extension to Queens Wharf were also approved at great expense to the ratepayer.
There is no doubt Ports of Auckland got above their station in 2015. Now Panuku is showing signs of similar arrogance and hubris. Panuku has "conveniently" advised councillors the only "viable" America's Cup options were significant expansions into the harbour. It's likely Panuku advanced its America's Cup wharf expansion concepts as they wouldn't impede on its own self-serving plans for Wynyard Point.
Also, it would be advantageous for Panuku if the Government paid for Panuku's long desired costly wharf expansions. All other options were rapidly cast aside and described as "too hard" by Panuku officials because they didn't perfectly dovetail into their long-term plans.
Yet again a council controlled organisation (CCO) is showing signs of out of control management - the tail seems to be wagging the dog.
Then there's the Queens Wharf "dolphins". These costly concrete structures are proposed to facilitate the berthing of a few oversized cruise ships. The justification for spending $10 million of ratepayers money on the "dolphins" was based on economic data provided to the council by lobbyists Cruise New Zealand.
Unfortunately for the council, within days of their decision, the Cruise NZ data was proven to be completely erroneous by Statistics New Zealand. Shockingly, there had been no investigation into the veracity of the lobby group's misinformation. Statistics NZ's figures showed that the overall spend by cruise passengers in Auckland had been exaggerated by over four times by Cruise NZ.
There are many questions that now need to be asked. Why did the Auckland Council jump the gun on the America's Cup options? Why did Panuku discredit the tank farm option so quickly? Why doesn't Panuku's resource consent include appropriate economic evaluations? Why is Panuku basing its assumptions on two America's Cup regattas held in Auckland — which crystal ball is it using to ensure an ETNZ win in 2021?
Why is the fishing fleet berthage being asked to move yet again? Why is the whole character of our waterfront being fundamentally changed by filling in the harbour with more concrete and the addition of a shed farm, with its 14m high, so-called "temporary" 10-year structures, re-industrialising a recently de-industrialised waterfront?
It seems the problem lies in the governance structures of the council controlled organisations. The CCO's governance structures create self-serving economic and management imperatives resulting in outcomes that are detrimental to the waterfront.
Decisions are being made on completely erroneous suppositions, exaggerated economic forecasts and self-serving obfuscated disinformation. Councillors are making decisions that have significant negative impacts on the waterfront, on advice from CCOs that have agendas that are at odds with best practice and the best outcomes for the waterfront.
It's time the dog started wagging the tail. The council needs more rigorous systems to ensure it leads from the front rather than being beholden to the self-serving advice of CCOs and lobbyists. CCO governance structures must be amended to ensure best practice economic projections, honest and unbiased information and open public disclosure and involvement.
Better decisions will arise from councillors being more vigilant, exercising greater scrutiny and showing appropriate scepticism of prepackaged information delivered to them by unaccountable bureaucrats and lobbyists. The last thing a waterfront needs is management run amok.
* Michael Goldwater represents Stop Stealing Our Harbour.