10 Jul 2010

Council changes plans for Auckland 'party central'

6:00 am on 10 July 2010

The Auckland Regional Council has voted to save one of two historic cargo sheds on Queens Wharf for a Rugby World Cup party venue. The move puts the council at odds with the Government.

In an urgent meeting on Wednesday, the council changed direction on the joint project, after becoming convinced of the shed's heritage merits.

It's proposing a $17 million revamp instead, overturning a conditional agreement with the Government, which wants to demolish both sheds and build a new temporary structure at a cost of about $10 million.

Council chairman Mike Lee admits he changed his mind over the project, but says heritage has longer-term value for the region. He says the Government's suggestion to move the shed to another part of the wharf is not practical.

The meeting was told that the Government, which shared the $40 million cost of buying the wharf, is opposed to the new plan and offering to sell its half share.

The Historic Places Trust says the old cargo sheds have significant heritage value and are a link to New Zealand's economic development.

It says the sheds were linked to the main trunk line, with goods for export brought to Auckland and loaded on to ships.

Decision 'against public wishes' - Minister

In a letter to the council, Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully said he could not understand the change of heart and believed it went against public wishes.

Regional councillors at the meeting voted to try to come up with a compromise design for the venue. The council says it has two weeks to finalise the concept using the shed, but the Government has already hinted it will be prepared to quit the project if it does not get its way.

Earlier, campaigners in favour of retaining the sheds welcomed the prospect that they would not be demolished. Architect David Mitchell says there are marvellous examples around the world, including as close as Sydney, of reusing industrial buildings.

It is understood the Auckland City Council may step in as a new partner in the development, having earlier earmarked $23 million to be made available if the sheds are retained.