30 Apr 2015

Auckland wharf delay offer accepted

6:47 pm on 30 April 2015

Auckland Council has accepted its port company's offer to delay one of two controversial wharf extensions.

Ports of Auckland

Ports of Auckland Photo: RNZ

The council asked the company a month ago to halt the construction of two extensions of Bledisloe Wharf, which were consented without councillors being aware of the work.

Ports of Auckland today made an offer to its owner, the Auckland Council, to halt the second extension if a study into the port's future found it was not needed. However, the other extension - reaching 92 metres into the harbour - would be completed.

The offer also asked for the council's study of the port's future needs to be completed by next April.

Councillors spent two-and-a-half hours in an at-times heated debate on the issue before voting to accept it late this afternoon.

It passed only after Mayor Len Brown used his casting vote to break a deadlock.

Mr Brown had recommended councillors agree to the move and said there would be significant financial consequences in amending the construction contract.

Ports of Auckland chair Graeme Hawkins.

Ports of Auckland chair Graeme Hawkins. Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

Mr Brown opened debate on the offer, saying he believed it would be comforting to those in the community opposed to further port expansion.

However, he called for a change of culture at the council-owned company, saying it seemed to have used public ownership as a shield.

Mr Brown said a compromise was needed.

"I would suggest that deals with a lot of the concerns that many of the people who have been protesting have got in terms of that port and port development and it enables us to get around the table and start sorting out the port's future."

Mr Brown said the company now needed to work on repairing its reputation with Auckland people.

Councillor Mike Lee said he would be calling for Mr Hawkins to be sacked, and said he believed other directors on the port board were unhappy with the chairman.

Mr Lee said there was no real urgency for either of the two extensions, and the council should stick to its guns demanding construction of both be halted, pending the port study.

Councillor John Watson rejected the offer, saying the port company had insisted there were no other options to building both extensions but was now offering an alternative.

Councillor Alf Filipaina supported it, saying it was a compromise and there was comfort in the assurance the extension that would be completed could be removed in future if it was found to be unnecessary.

Christine Fletcher.

Christine Fletcher. Photo: SUPPLIED

Councillor Christine Fletcher said Aucklanders would be disappointed with the council if it gave up without a fight over the two wharf extensions, calling the compromise a weak position.

She advocated demanding a halt to any work until the port study was completed.

Councillor Linda Cooper said she would back the port's offer, calling it a political compromise. The council would short-change Aucklanders if larger ships were lost to Australia, and goods for Auckland then trans-shipped, adding to the cost of living, Ms Cooper said.

Councillor Cathy Casey said this was not the time for the Auckland Council to blink. The port company had demonstrated a culture of total arrogance, and only a week ago had told councillors it had no intention of stopping work on either extension and would appeal any defeat it might face in court.

In a heated debate, Mr Brown warned councillors Mr Lee and Chris Darby they might have to leave the chamber because of their conduct.

Mr Darby said the council was folding like damp paper, only four weeks after unanimously demanding that work be halted.

He said it was a black day for Auckland when it was blackmailed by its port company, and he saw a risk of civil disobedience, and even a blockade of the port.

Cameron Brewer.

Cameron Brewer. Photo: SUPPLIED

Councillor Cameron Brewer spoke against the port's offer, saying the public would read it not as a backdown by the port but as a backdown by the council.

He said his communities in the Orakei ward, which was on the waterfront, had been giving him a clear message backing the council's earlier stance against the extensions.

Councillor Bill Cashmore said the port offer was the company extending a hand to the council, and saying it wanted to work better with the council-owner in the future.

He said digging in against the port company would help the problematic relationship which had developed between the council, its investment agency and the port company.

Councillor Arthur Anae said the region did not just need views of the harbour, it needed jobs, and councillors were forgetting they had a responsibility to deliver economic growth for today and the future. Mr Anae backed the offer, saying that to refuse it would be to block opportunity.

Councillor Callum Penrose said the offer would not be his first choice but the council needed to move on, and the port needed to create economic growth.

Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse backed the acceptance of the offer, despite there being no black or white solution. However, the council had to be responsible for the economic, social and environmental future of the city.

Councillor Ross Clow said he supported halting the extensions until the study on the port's future needs was completed, while Councillor George Wood argued against it, saying the picture would be clear for the port in a year, once legal action and the port study was completed.

Anger at decision

A group opposed to the extension of wharves at Auckland's port hopes more people will turn up to a protest rally this weekend now that the council has backed some of the work going ahead.

Spokesperson for Save Our Ports Michael Goldwater was fuming after hearing about the decision.

"The wharf that they're proposing to build, which I think is called B2 is literally a Trojan Horse for the Ports of Auckland to build more concrete...into one of the most beautiful harbours in the world."

Mr Goldwater said a rally would be held on the waterfront at 11am on Sunday.

Two private legal actions against the extensions continue.