Submission against so-called ‘dolphins’ extension to Queens Wharf
BEFORE THE INDEPENDENT COMMISSIONERS
IN THE MATTER of s88 of the Resource Management Act 1991.
Application for Resource Consent CST60323353 by Panuku – Development Auckland, for consent to construct two mooring dolphins located at distances of 49m and 82m (to the centres of the dolphins), to a total length of 90m from the end of Queens Wharf into the Coastal Marine Area, a gangway connection to Queens Wharf including hydraulic retractable gangway, piles, light poles and security gates.
SUBMISSION by Michael Lee
336 Sea View Road, Onetangi, Waiheke Island
25 February 2019
- My name is Michael Lee. I am the Auckland councillor representing the Waitematā & Gulf ward and have served in this role since 2010. Prior to this I was a member of the Auckland Regional Council (ARC), being first elected to that body representing the Auckland Central electorate in February 1992. In 2004 I was elected chairman of the ARC and served two consecutive terms in that role up until the ‘Super City’ amalgamation in October 2010. During my 27 years in regional government, and before, I have taken a keen interest in issues relating to the Waitematā Harbour and Hauraki Gulf. I am a member of the Hauraki Gulf Forum and the chair of the Auckland Council Heritage Advisory Panel. I hold a Master of Science degree (hons) in Biological Sciences from Auckland University, which includes credits in resource management law.
- Prior to my time in regional government I served in the merchant navy as a radio officer in passenger/general cargo, bulk carrier and container vessels and in the off shore oil industry from 1972 to 1991. This practical background in the maritime industry I found helpful during my time in the Auckland Regional Council, especially during the period from 2004-2010 when I was involved in deliberations and major decisions regarding the Auckland waterfront, including acquisition of 100% of the shares of Ports of Auckland Ltd (POAL), the consequent separation out from POAL of the Wynyard land portfolio, the original ‘Waterfront Vision’ (2005) developed with Ports of Auckland, Auckland City Council and the public and commencing the redevelopment of the Wynyard Quarter, decisions around a waterfront stadium, the purchase (with the government) of Queens Wharf from POAL and the restoration and refurbishment of Shed 10 to become Auckland’s premier cruise ship terminal. Incidentally and for the record, the purchase of Queens Wharf, including the protracted negotiations with POAL and its lawyers, from the ARC side was personally managed by the ARC Chief Executive Peter Winder with legal support from Tom Bennett of Bell Gully.
- While this application will be decided under the provisions of the Resource Management Act and its instruments, including the NZ Coastal Policy Statement and the Auckland Unitary Plan, I note as indicated in the excellent Application Report by the Reporting Planner Richard Blakey, that the Coastal Marine Area (‘common marine and coastal area’) of the Waitematā Harbour is legally part of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park and therefore relevant aspects of the application need to be considered under the provisions of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act (2000), particularly sections 7 & 8 which under sections 9 & 10 of that Act constitute a National Policy Statement and a NZ Coastal Policy Statement. As s13 of that Act reminds us “…all persons exercising powers or carrying out functions for the Hauraki Gulf under any Act specified in Schedule 1, must in addition to any other requirement specified in those Acts for the exercise of that power or the carrying out of that function, have particular regard to the provisions of sections 7 and 8 of this Act.” Note also s33 of that Act and the map in Schedule 3 which sets out the boundaries of the Marine Park.
- Out the outset, I wish to make it clear that I support the continued location of the Ports of Auckland within its present operational footprint. Auckland is a harbour city, a port city and the Ports of Auckland are of immense strategic importance to New Zealand and of major economic and commercial significance to the people of Auckland. That said however, it is axiomatic to sustainable management that the port should not further impinge upon, nor further compromise the values and life-supporting capacity of the Waitematā Harbour which enables its existence. Furthermore as the record will show, while I have advocated and supported policies specifically aimed at supporting the cruise ship industry, because of the value of cruise ship visits to Auckland, as public servants of Auckland we need to ensure that as much as possible the cruise ship industry works for Auckland – not the other way round. After reading the evidence of the applicant’s experts, I am not convinced that this point is fully understood by all council/CCO officials.
- In 2009, as noted in evidence, the ARC and the government purchased Queens Wharf from Ports of Auckland Ltd. This was done for three reasons. 1. To secure public open space on the waterfront; 2. As an event space for the 2011 Rugby World Cup; & 3. To enable Queens Wharf to become Auckland’s primary cruise ship terminal. All these objectives were I believe mutually compatible, integrated and sustainable. In other words to provide a recreation space, connecting the city to the working waterfront, and the harbour – a location from which Aucklanders had been excluded for some 90 years – enabling the people of this maritime city to get up close to ships. Given this background I find it disappointing and frankly difficult to understand why (e.g. See John Smith’s evidence for the applicant) Queens Wharf, despite all its advantages of size and location for passenger shipping, is no longer the preferred location for cruise ships – this according to the ‘Central Wharves Strategy’ (2017). I should point out that the ‘Central Wharves Strategy’ despite Aucklanders’ high interest in the waterfront was decided behind closed doors without public input. I am sure it will come as a surprise to many Aucklanders that this application for a major and intrusive wharf extension into the harbour is also at the same time deemed “temporary” until cruise ship services are relocated to Captain Cook wharf “over the next decade” (again according to Mr Smith). This suggests that along with aspects of the ‘Downtown Programme’, including the removal and value destruction of the smaller cruise ship berth at Queens Wharf West, this consent is being sought in a context of strategic muddle and incoherence. Strategic coherence in managing the Auckland waterfront unfortunately is not a legal requirement – but sustainable management is.
Mooring dolphins? or wharf extension?
- I should also point out that the use of the term ‘mooring dolphins’ as a description by the applicant and the applicant’s experts for this proposal is somewhat misleading. Mooring dolphins all around the world, as the name would suggest, are located in the sea, and like navigation beacons are secured to the seabed with almost always no connection to the land or wharves. The nearest example of a mooring dolphin used for cruise ships is at Circular Quay, Sydney.
- Semantics of the naming aside, I note that Queens Wharf is 350m (330m berthage) in length, the ‘dolphins’ and associated gangway will extend out a further 90m into the harbour and include concrete piles beneath and lighting poles above. By comparison Sydney’s Circular Quay is 290m in length, and its low profile, non-intrusive, genuine dolphin is located 60m out from the wharf. This free-standing arrangement, as the photo shows, can readily cater for oversize Quantum-class vessels like the Ovation of the Seas and the Queen Mary and will cater for Oasis-class vessels. In contrast the Panuku proposed ‘dolphins’/wharf extension is significantly longer, has a much greater ‘footprint’ (9500 square metres of seabed by Mr Blakey’s estimate), a much higher visual profile, cannot be navigated around and therefore will be permanently disruptive of ferry schedules (noting the ‘real world’ evidence by Fullers Ltd) and challenging for yachts (noting evidence on behalf of the Royal NZ Yacht Squadron et al.). Compared to the berthing arrangements in Sydney, the Auckland proposal appears to be over-engineered with little apparent concern for avoiding, remedying or mitigating environmental impacts on the harbour. The Panuku proposal will be considerably more expensive and much less environmentally sustainable than would be the deployment of a genuine mooring dolphin. Moreover, given the council’s preference in its ‘Central Wharf Strategy’ to move cruise ships over the next decade’ from Queens to Captain Cook Wharf, in addition to the non-sustainable use of limited natural and physical resources, the proposal given Auckland’s wider infrastructural needs, appears to be a singular uneconomic use of ratepayers’ funds.
Heritage and aesthetic effects
- In 2009 after the purchase of Queens Wharf, I rather quickly had to become appraised of the heritage values of the long locked-away Queens Wharf, and Shed 10 in particular. That is another story but the outcome was that the ARC saved Shed 10 (in the face of strong opposition from our partners in the government) and made funding provision for its refurbishment to become a cruise ship terminal building and event space. As the current chair of the Auckland Council Heritage Advisory Panel made up of independent heritage technical experts and advocates, I wish to place on record the support of the Heritage Advisory Panel members for Heritage New Zealand and others who oppose the application for the heritage and aesthetic reasons as set out in the Heritage New Zealand submission (Robin Byron).
Economic assessment and related aspects
- I hesitate to challenge the applicant’s economic projections for this project except to sound a note of caution that in my personal experience such projections, (and the consequences of rejecting them) are routinely used to lobby for and justify the spending of public money and for this reason can often be subjective and exaggerated. They therefore should be taken with a pinch of salt.
- Submissions relating to these economic projections, that come with dire warnings, should the application be declined, about oversize cruise ships refusing to visit Auckland should also be received with skepticism. As the hearing planner Mr Blakey reminds us, the largest oversize cruise ship presently in the region, Ovation of the Seas has been calling at Auckland with increasing frequency since 2016, despite it being unable to berth and having to use dynamic positioning (DP) to keep station in the stream and having to transport its passengers ashore by tender. (Expert evidence that warns us that all cruise ships do not have DP is somewhat misleading – all the new oversize ships do and will, and in the final analysis all ships have anchors). Given this we can be confident of continued visits from Ovation of the Seas regardless of the outcome of this consent decision. At any rate as indicated by the various figures in the applicant’s evidence (as opposed to the conclusions asserted in that evidence) as noted by Mr Blakey in his memorandum of 12 February, the number of cruise ships visits, especially of non-oversize vessels will almost certainly increase in coming years. The problem Auckland and other ports like Sydney will face, will not be insufficient ship visits, but too many.
- The justification for the proposal appears to boil down to the proposition that there is a significant loss of economic value in tendering passengers ashore from oversize ships, compared to passengers from ships with direct shore access. However the supposed disadvantages and economic losses from tendering passengers ashore appear to be exaggerated. From the passengers’ perspective the views of the Waitematā Harbour and of Auckland from a ship in the stream are quite splendid, creating a memorable experience – certainly more scenically attractive in my recent experience than being alongside at Queens Wharf at this point in time. For cruise passengers, coming ashore by tender is not an uncommon experience. In Auckland it is a pleasant and enjoyable ‘City of Sails’ experience. Tourists actually pay for such boat trips on Auckland Harbour.
- In terms of economic activity and spending if “only” 85% of for instance of Ovation of the Seas’ passengers come ashore via tenders, as indicated in evidence i.e. approximately 3800 people, that is more than the total numbers of passengers and crew of for instance its smaller sister ship Radiance of the Seas (2500 pax 860 crew) coming ashore at Queen Wharf and more than from many cruise ships. If we project a similar figure onto an Oasis-class vessel with 6000 passengers, the likely number coming ashore by tender will be roughly equivalent to all the passengers and crew of two conventional cruise ships alongside.
- As this application is argued very much on the economic benefits for Auckland in respect of transferring cruise ships to Captain Cook Wharf, it should be noted that Captain Cook Wharf will first need to be purchased from Ports of Auckland, it will require resource consents and funding in order to extend the wharf the planned extra 150m, (30 metres further into the harbour than the present length of Queens Wharf), and will require funding and consents for a new terminal building. One suspects the economic case justifying this proposal will make interesting reading.
- Finally taking into account the wider aspects of the economic arguments for the importance of the cruise industry and of this particular application for Auckland, and again taking into account the ‘Central Wharves Strategy’ and the ‘Downtown Programme’, as noted, the cruise ship berth for smaller vessels on Queens Wharf West is to be removed and replaced by pontoons for harbour ferries, which in turn will be relocated from their present berths to enable a ‘recreation space’, extending from Quay Street into the ferry basin. It is noted from evidence that approximately up to 35% of new building cruise ships come into the smaller ship category. It is revealing that the opportunity cost and value destruction of the removal of this important cruise ship berth does not weigh heavily in the economic assessments of the applicant’s experts.
The role of Ports of Auckland and the precedent effect of this consent
15.Until relatively recently, the official view of Ports of Auckland of the value of cruise shipping was surprisingly dismissive. POAL for many years advised the shareholder that cruise was commercially insignificant for the company, though as part of the Queens Wharf acquisition agreement of 2009, Ports was careful to retain its monopoly of handling and berthing cruise ships. On the other hand under the same 2009 deed of purchase POAL is obliged to maintain the wharf piles and below wharf structures of Queens Wharf. As I understand it POAL while directly commercially benefiting from this proposal will have no obligation to maintain the proposed new structures. I am also aware from direct discussions that POAL executives insist on the ‘dolphin’ gangways and associated paraphernalia (i.e. the 90m wharf extension), for operational ‘health and safety’ reasons. Clearly Ports’ technical expertise carries a lot of weight among the less practically experienced council/CCO personnel. However the dolphin in Sydney Harbour (and dolphins around the world) are serviced by berthing lines boats. In regard to occupational health and safety it should be noted that the Australian Maritime Act 2008, the New South Wales Health Work & Safety Act 2011, the NSW Work Health & Safety Regulations 2017 and the current Port Safety Operating License issued by the State government to the Port Authority of New South Wales are considered to be as least as stringent, (many H&S experts say more stringent) than the New Zealand Health & Safety at Work Act 2015
16. It should also be borne in mind that POAL has its own longstanding plans for wharf extensions and reclamations. Currently these are on hold. However it will be remembered as recently as 2015 POAL began constructing wharf extensions over 90m in length, from Bledisloe Wharf before being halted by the High Court and the overwhelmingly negative public reaction. However if this proposed 90m extension of Queens Wharf is consented to then the precedent created will almost certainly trigger another round of consent applications for harbour reclamation. This will fly in the face of the strong public consensus in Auckland against further reclamations and other cumulative encroachments into the Waitematā harbour.
18. I therefore request that the application be declined on the grounds that it:
(a) will be contrary to the sustainable management of natural and physical resources;
- (b) will not (and in the context of the ‘Downtown Programme’ and the ‘Central Wharves Strategy’) promote the efficient use and development of resources;
(c) will generate both short-term and long-term significant adverse environmental effects on the Waitematā Harbour and the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park;
- (d) will conflict with the strongly expressed wishes of ‘people and communities’ in Auckland, against further reclamation, extensions and encroachments into the Waitematā Harbour
- (e) will otherwise be inconsistent with the purpose and principles (Part 2) of the Resource Management Act 1991.
(f) will conflict with the National Policy Statement and NZ Coastal Policy Statement provisions of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act 2000, s8 (a),(b),(c),(d), (e) & (f).