When the Government passed the Rugby World Cup 2011 (Empowering) Act, it clearly signalled its intentions. It was saying, in effect, that it was determined absolutely nothing would stand in the way of how it wanted the event to be run. Yesterday came the confirmation as the Government used the legislation to seize control of the Auckland waterfront for the World Cup celebrations.

The Auckland Council was sidelined in a show of no confidence as Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully asserted that he knew best.

There will be some support for the Government's dramatic move, after the chaotic scenes last Friday when thousands more than expected turned up to the opening night celebrations. Thousands were crushed at the gates to Party Central, raising safety concerns.

Yesterday, Mr McCully said the lack of proper arrangements for the flow and management of people led to the difficulties. Preparations outside the Queens Wharf area - made by the the council - were "thoroughly inadequate in respect of crowd control and amenities", he said.


This was evident from what happened. But it is doubtful that Mr McCully can fully escape blame. Friction between him and the council was part and parcel of the development of the celebrations as the minister sought to stamp his mark. In particular, he was keen to micro-manage the Cloud and to broadcast the attractions of Party Central. While the Queens Wharf area was largely trouble-free, its ability to hold only 12,000 people was the source of many of the problems.

Mr McCully's plan to avoid a repeat involves taking complete control of Party Central and enlarging the fan zones to include the Bledisloe and Captain Cook wharves. Very late in the piece, urgent work will have to be done there to install amenities and guarantee crowd safety. The added wharf space should thin out any crowd that flocks to the area, most likely on Sunday, October 23, if New Zealand wins the World Cup.

This provision comes, however, at a cost to the Ports of Auckland. Both wharves are important in its operations. It is reasonable to ask whether that cost is too high, as a repeat of last Friday's crowd size is unlikely.

Most fundamentally, yesterday's move is a slap in the face for the Super City concept that the Government set up not so long ago. It was the Government that established the framework, including the council- controlled organisations that proved inept in their planning. Now, at the first sign of a bloody nose, it has stepped in to take control.

The Government might also have been tempted to take a similar step over the public transport disruptions, but knows there is nothing it can do to correct Auckland's frail train system in a matter of weeks. Mr McCully has, therefore, confined himself to approving planning in an area of considerable familiarity.

The fact that such last-minute changes are having to be made speaks volumes about the calibre of the previous plans. Huge mistakes were made, not least the failure to organise alternative venues for celebrations when it became obvious the waterfront would be badly overcrowded. Mr McCully says Government officials will write a new plan to manage the waterfront beyond its own fan zone at Queens Wharf. He will not be directly involved, he says.

Nevertheless, his imprint will be all over it. Likewise, he cannot play down the use of such extravagant emergency powers. All too often, last-minute decisions taken in haste and without due regard for proper processes come unstuck. The minister must now prove this is not an overreaction and that he does, indeed, know best.