1 May 2015

No winners in wharf extension row

2:22 pm on 1 May 2015

Neither the Ports of Auckland nor its owner the Auckland Council has emerged the winner in a compromise deal allowing one of two hotly-debated wharf extensions to continue.

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Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

The port company has agreed to halt work on the 98 metre-long extension known as B3, just two days after its Queen's Counsel Jim Farmer told the High Court the work could not be stopped.

The council, according to the only opinion survey published, has probably upset half of Auckland in weakening its earlier stance that both extensions be halted.

Mayor Len Brown may be the biggest loser, having to settle the issue with his casting vote, and identifying himself most closely with the change in the council position.

"I do so on the basis that I wished the entire chamber was here," he said, in what might have been the understatement of a debate for which four councillors were absent.

The deal will allow the 92-metre B2 extension to be built on the eastern side of the rectangular area called Bledisloe Wharf. B3 on the eastern western side, closest to the city, can only proceed if a study on the port's future finds it is needed.

While the B2 extension will be built now, the port company said that if the study found it was superfluous, it would be removed.

The deal had been negotiated between senior council management and Ports of Auckland, and was revealed to councillors shortly before they were asked to vote on it.

It contained no more detail about the commercial case for the extensions, and councillors had to depend on a council management view that the port company had properly weighed up all the alternatives.

The wounds from the month-long stand-off will take some time to heal. Councillors opposing the extensions did not mince words, with Chris Darby calling it "a black day for Auckland when it is blackmailed by its port company".

Mike Lee and Cathy Casey both called for Ports of Auckland chair Graeme Hawkins to be sacked. Councillor Casey also wants the chair of the council's investment arm ACIL to go.

ACIL manages the port ownership on behalf of the council, and many around the council table blame it for not alerting them last year to the company's lodging of resource consent applications for the work.

The consents were granted, construction contracts let, and preparations begun on the job, before councillors learned of the project ten weeks ago through the news media.

Mr Brown is trying to look ahead, pointing to Ports of Auckland's apparent commitment to a closer working relationship with its owner during a year-long study on the port's future needs.

But the electoral consequences are not yet clear. The well-backed protest group Stop Stealing Our Harbour had already called a march for this Sunday - an important test of whether public passion has cooled.

Ports of Auckland still has to contest two private legal actions.

North Shore resident Carol Banks is off to the Court of Appeal next week, after failing to get an interim injunction in the High Court on Tuesday which would have halted the work immediately.

And lobby group Urban Auckland will present its argument in the High Court in early June, that the issuing of resource consents was invalid.

Deputy mayor accepts possible loss of cruise visits

Auckland's deputy mayor Penny Hulse said the council was prepared to lose a few cruise ship visits as part of it's compromise over wharf extensions.

She told Nine to Noon the compromise proposed by the council was to secure the cargo business.

"We're looking at some other and alternative arraignments that can be made for cruise ships and we think we might be able to accommodate one or two of those.

"Cruise - although very important to us are not the lifeblood of Auckland, cargo ships are the lifeblood of Auckland."