The fight for the Waitemata waterfront

The news of another waterfront stadium, this one to be sunk in the harbour is the latest in a long list of controversial waterfront developments proposed or under way.

The real estate consortium pushing the ‘spectacular’ $1.8b stadium is claiming there will be ‘no cost’ to the ratepayers (despite asking for $4m from the council up front). Given Auckland’s other infrastructural needs, it is doubtful that a new stadium is our highest priority right now and given the value destruction of public assets entailed (demolishing Eden Park and using it and Bledisloe port land for high rise apartments), I am not the only Aucklander disinclined to take these white shoe characters at their word. Meanwhile there are a number of other developments drawing opposition from Aucklanders fighting to protect the harbour and its heritage.

The first is the helicopter pad at Sentinel Beach. The Herne Bay Residents Association is appalled at the non-notified consent given to a rich-lister Rod Duke to convert a boat shed into a ‘James Bond’ type helicopter pad. Locals are dismayed at the prospect of shattering helicopter noise and fearful of the danger to people using the beach from suddenly arriving helicopters driving sand, shells and pebbles in all directions, and endangering children in kayaks and dinghies. These ratepayers are angered by the favouritism shown by council managers to this very wealthy individual at the cost of their peaceful enjoyment of their homes and public beach, and their rights as citizens and property owners to be consulted. Auckland hero Andy Coleman of Kawau Island Action Inc is so incensed he is proceeding against the council, seeking a judicial review of the non-notified resource consent before the High Court.

Further along the coast, Auckland Council’s ‘Healthy Waters’ is applying for consent for a $44m plus project to divert sewage-contaminated storm water from Westhaven marina (at the request of Council-owned Panuku) into a long tunnel running under the St Mary’s Bay cliffs to Masefield Beach from where it will either be pumped back into the already overloaded combined system, or discharged into the Waitemata under the Harbour Bridge. The project appears to be related to Panuku’s plans to privatise marina land for upscale housing developments. Local residents led by the St Mary’s Bay Association, Herne Bay Residents Association and the Western Bays Community Group compiled impressive technical evidence challenging the application. Representatives David Abbott, Dirk Hudig, Bryan Bates and others presented compelling submissions to the hearing commissioners in late September; essentially arguing separation of sewage from storm water is a much more sustainable and less expensive solution. Supporting them I presented my own submission. There are better ways to spend $44m in 2018 than dumping sewage in the harbour.

Further east again, work is under way on the Wynyard waterfront for the America’s Cup. Panuku having been rescued from an unpopular America’s Cup proposal by Minister David Parker seems still intent on offending public opinion. Over the past year the CCO has had Aucklanders up-in-arms, across the region, particularly over its plans to privatise publicly-owned marina land for residential development, privatise a town centre carpark in Takapuna and flog off council buildings gifted by an early Papakura identity. Panuku has a mission to sell council property to help fund the council budget deficit and this apparently explains its willingness to override public opinion.

The Wynyard Quarter is a special place, a character-filled remnant of Auckland’s old industrial waterfront. Panuku demonstrated its disinterest in Wynyard’s special character when in August it shut down the operation of the popular heritage tramway because of a land deal granted in favour of a hard-nosed Wellington developer Mark McGuiness (Willis Bond). In response a group of passionate tram supporters led by Ponsonby wine merchant Puneet Dahl (another Auckland hero) is battling the system, campaigning to get the trams running again. The group has a lively Facebook page and a petition approaching 1000 signatories.

At the same time Panuku is embroiled in another controversy over its attempts to evict the harbour ferry Kestrel, one of our most important heritage vessels, from the waterfront. Her owners Darby Partners have an exciting plan to incorporate a restored Kestrel in a boutique hotel, restaurant development on Z Pier at Westhaven east, most of which is currently a car park. For reasons, unknown, Panuku has stone-walled the proposal but at the same time has been charging the owners super yacht rates ($5,500 monthly) for the privilege of berthing the old ferry. In mid-October there was an unseemly shouting match on the wharf between a Panuku manager and the Kestrel skipper who with nowhere else to go refused to be bullied off the berth.

Further east at Queens Wharf Panuku is applying to build a ‘mooring dolphin’ to enable the berthing of mega–sized cruise ships. The problem is this ‘dolphin’ is not really a dolphin at all. Rather than being anchored to the seabed like a buoy, as used in ports around the world, for instance off Circular Quay, Sydney, Panuku’s fake ‘dolphin’ is actually a 90-metre-long wharf extension with the mooring bollards attached to the end. Not surprisingly there is widespread public opposition. Three years ago there was massive outcry when Ports of Auckland tried extending Bledisloe wharf 100m out into the harbour. As a result Auckland Council and Ports got a kick in the pants from the High Court, but sadly it seems absolutely no lesson has been learnt from that experience. The fight goes on.


Published in the November 2018 issue of Ponsonby News

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