How Auckland Council and AT are stuffing up the waterfront

Over the next 10 years, Auckland Council has a vision to transform the waterfront into an attractive, people friendly environment. Auckland Transport will be delivering the first part of this vision from 2018 to 2021…Mīharo (extraordinary) Manaakitanga (welcoming)
Auckland to Tāmaki (authentic and beautiful).”

So says the Auckland Council/AT blurb on plans for the downtown waterfront where major changes are already underway. But hype is hype in any language. Aucklanders have found council ‘official speak’ all too often actually means the opposite – the flipside to reality.

What is now happening now can be traced back to Auckland Council’s behind-closed-doors ‘refresh’ of the popular Waterfront Plan. This took place in 2017 in the wake of the disbanding of the small, specialised CCO ‘Waterfront Auckland’ and its takeover by Auckland Council Property Ltd which then became the much bigger ‘Panuku’. These major changes to the waterfront were agreed to by Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and Panuku but with the people of Auckland firmly shut out of the process.

First of all I should point out the downtown waterfront is already ‘a people friendly’ environment but it is also at the same time a working waterfront where harbour ferries and cruise ships embark and disembark thousands of passengers every week. Adjacent Quay Street is also a vital arterial route conveying working commuters from the eastern suburbs and Parnell to the CBD. Under the Orwellian brand ‘Quay Street enhancement’ work is now underway to permanently reduce the present four lanes of vehicle traffic, from two each way, to one each way. Despite the scale and length of the work and its permanent consequences, AT and Auckland Council refused to publicly notify the resource consent, claiming that the effects would be ‘no more than minor’. Approximately 25,000 vehicles a day transit this area. This traffic cannot be simply wished away. Already commuters are experiencing considerable peak hour delays on Quay Street and on the Strand through to Stanley Street and this is just the start. The end result of this Quay Street ‘enhancement’ can only be deliberately engineered gridlock. The only people advantaged it seems will be Lime Scooter users and cyclists but it’s going to be deeply frustrating for most commuters and costly for businesses.

Another ‘enhancement’ is the planned use of Quay Street by AT as an ‘interchange’ for double–decker buses. The wall of noisy, diesel emitting double-deckers will further compound congestion and also compromise views and connectivity with the harbour. Among the reasons why the move is strongly opposed by Cooper & Company, the owners of the adjacent Britomart heritage precinct and highly-rated urban renewal project.

Another proposed change, thankfully subject to a notified consent, is a ‘mooring dolphin’ off Queens Wharf . This to enable berthing mega-sized cruise ships. Leaving aside the merits or otherwise of ratepayers having to pay for this, it needs to be pointed out that this is not really a mooring dolphin as normally understood by the term. Mooring dolphins used around the world, for instance at Circular Quay, Sydney, are anchored to the sea floor and positioned in the harbour like buoys or beacons – quite separate and with no physical attachment to the land or wharves. In contrast this fake ‘mooring dolphin’ will be connected to the end of Queens Wharf by a 90m long jetty, in effect it is a mooring bollard at the end of a major extension to Queens Wharf. This flies in the face of the strong public consensus against further encroachments into the harbour. In 2015 there was a public outcry when Ports of Auckland tried to expand Bledisloe wharf by a similar length extension. Auckland Council spent over $500,000 of ratepayers’ money supporting Ports’ plans in the High Court and lost. Evidently council and its CCOs have failed to learn the lessons that should have been learnt then. This brings me to the proposed ‘Downtown public space’. Ever since Auckland Council sold Queen Elizabeth Square (for a risable net price) there has been a push by council officers to replace the open space so willingly traded away, by reclaiming a part of the ferry basin opposite Albert Street. The people of Auckland have not asked for this and have made it clear they want an end to harbour encroachments. The extension with an associated twee, arty ‘blob’ sitting in the water, portrayed in council publicity as “an oasis inspired by our coastal and cultural environment”, is in reality just another unimaginative encroachment. This will restrict ferries operating from the ideal place for them, make berthing cruise ships at Princes Wharf more difficult and hinder navigation within the ferry basin. These are just some of the planned changes.

A working waterfront and a ‘people friendly’ waterfront, as the present situation demonstrates need not be incompatible. While improvements and enhancements are always welcome, that requires a practical understanding of how the area works, if not vision. Such vision, let alone practicalty, is sadly lacking among council and CCO bureaucrats. It appears to me that the objective of the exercise is to ‘transform’ our working waterfront into a sort of sterile playground for city hipsters. So not ‘extraordinary’, not ‘welcoming’ and certainly not ‘authentic’ or ‘beautiful’.

This article was published in the March edition of The Hobson.

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