On Guard Aucklanders – your waterfront is under threat
The National government has announced the end of its assets sales programme, which on the face of it should bring to a close New Zealand’s shameful era of privatization – of country selling. While most of the government’s trading assets have now been completely or partially sold off, it’s probably too much to hope that privatisation will really come to an end. In fact I have long suspected local public assets will be the next to come under pressure. And in fact this seems to be happening with the first target being public open space. Prime waterfront open space, judging by the revelations that Auckland Council and Council Controlled Organisation (CCO) bureaucrats have been secretly discussing the sell-off of Queens Wharf to a mysterious Cayman Islands-based corporation.
Persistent rumours suggest that behind this is Australian mining billionaire, Gina Rinehart, but this has been adamantly denied by the project frontman, businessman and Mayor Len Brown backer, Sir Noel Robinson. But he won’t say who it is. Why not?
Following closely on the heels of this unhappy news came the Auckland Council Governing Body’s decision, on the basis of an officers’ report emailed through the previous day, to agree ‘ in principle’ to the sell off Queen Elizabeth ll Square to the Abu Dhabi controlled Precinct Properties, as part of an expanded shopping mall – office tower development.
Like Queens Wharf, Queen Elizabeth ll Square is high value, strategically located public open space. It is also prime blue-chip real estate, potentially the most valuable in New Zealand – though judging from the Council officers’ report it is considered neither.
Queens Wharf was purchased by the former Auckland Regional Council and the Government in 2009 and opened to the public for the first time in nearly 100 years on Anzac Day 2010. It has proven to be enormously popular with Aucklanders.
With its purpose-built, temporary ‘Cloud’, Queens Wharf did sterling service during the Rugby World Cup as ‘Party Central’. Its companion, historic Shed 10 has been handsomely renovated by Waterfront Auckland to become Auckland’s premier cruise ship terminal (just as the ARC recommended in mid 2010). Apart from hosting tens of thousands of cruise ship visitors, Shed 10 has become a sentimental favourite of Aucklanders (they do after all own it). It is used for a wide range of public events, memorably hosting thousands of supporters, morning after morning, who came to Shed 10 to cheer on Team NZ during last year’s America’s Cup series.
With its purpose-built, temporary ‘Cloud’, Queens Wharf did sterling service during the Rugby World Cup as ‘Party Central’. Its companion, historic Shed 10 has been handsomely renovated by Waterfront Auckland to become Auckland’s premier cruise ship terminal – just as the ARC recommended in mid 2010. Apart from hosting tens of thousands of cruise ship visitors, Shed 10, as the last America’s Cup showed, has become a sentimental favourite of Aucklanders (they do after all own it).
From the time – as chairman of the ARC-, I announced our intention to buy Queens Wharf, I always believed one of the greatest advantages of opening Queens Wharf are the views out over the harbour which link the city to the sea. Hopefully the Cloud will soon be removed to enhance these views. The secret plans to privatise the Quay Street end of the Wharf and block those views with crass office and car-park buildings are unacceptable.
Across Quay Street, the loss of Queen Elizabeth ll Square will be a major loss of amenity for Downtown Auckland. Precinct Properties’ new development could have been an opportunity to redress the planning mistakes of the 1970s and 80s. But from what I have seen so far, and given the forelock-tugging attitude of Council bureaucrats towards big business and their unwillingness to stand up for the public interest, I am not holding my breath. Neither should you.
On guard Aucklanders. Our beautiful waterfront is under threat from the country sellers.
A version of this article has been published in the Ponsonby News (June edition).