Monday, March 06, 2006

Brian Rudman: Auckland treasure isn't a cash cow to be milked

Brian Rudman: Auckland treasure isn't a cash cow to be milked

06.03.06

Six months ago Ports of Auckland was appealing for public response to its redevelopment plans for the land it owns known as the Tank Farm. Now it's Auckland City's turn, seeking public input on the planning template it wants to impose over the 35ha prime waterfront site.

It comes as no surprise that the two plans are passingly similar. That's because they are the outcome of much prior consultation and horse-trading between these two powerful organisations, and with the port company's owner, the Auckland Regional Council.

Normally I'd be full of praise for such close co-operation between two parts of Auckland's fractured local government. But not in this case. Not when this joint "vision" has been hog-tied by the desire of the owners to make a profit to pay for new transport and infrastructure projects across the region. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the port company's plans, apparently dominated by apartments.

Elsewhere in the world, an urban renewal project such as this, particularly a harbour front one, would at best, be expected to break even. More likely, large dollops of public funds would be poured into it, in recognition of the opportunity it provides to create a national and international drawcard.

This is why I support Sir Ron Carter and the Committee for Auckland, who last year called for the redevelopment site to be put under the control of a single-purpose development authority.

This would be a body with the sole task of creating a world-class new waterfront. It wouldn't have, in the back of its mind, the restraint of knowing it had to create a cash cow as well. Of course there are many other reasons why a single-purpose authority is the one to follow. These are canvassed in an analysis of 27 waterfront redevelopments, conducted by Mercer Delta Consulting for the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation, dated September 2004. Mercer's compared projects from around the world, singling out for in- depth study Sydney, London Docklands, Liverpool, Vancouver, New York Governors Island and Chicago. The full report can be found on Committee for Auckland's web site http://www.aucklandnz.org/portfolio.cfm.

The report warns that no governance model will succeed if there is lack of political will and commitment, lack of government and agency co-operation, if funding is inadequate or unpredictable and if the public and other key stakeholders are not proactively engaged.

What it does not address is the concept of making a profit out of the exercise. One assumes it's because none of the 27 world-class cities involved in their survey contemplated that turning a buck was a goal.

Indeed the consultants assume - and recommend - that a Toronto waterfront development authority will get initial seed funding from local, provincial and national government "and that all proceeds from development be used to pay down outstanding infrastructure debt with the objective of minimising the contributions required from governments".

In other words, to realise the vision and create a special place on their run-down waterfront, Toronto, like the 27 other cities, is going to have to fork out, at least until the project starts paying something back.

Auckland's vision, as currently espoused by our civic leaders, is to buck the world trend and turn a profit from our waterfront gentrification. Are we really wiser than the rest of the world? Do we want to risk our waterfront finding out?

Of course the consultation process Auckland City wants us to join in on doesn't address the issue of governance of the redevelopment project. It's acting as the planning authority and wants your views on how much open spaces versus 16- storey apartment blocks should be shoe-horned on to the site.

But as Mayor Dick Hubbard said in launching the plan and calling for comment: "We have only one chance to get this right." If you want the Tank Farm to become that "very special" place the mayor wants to help "define" Auckland City, I suggest you raise the governance issue in your submission.

We only have one chance. Let's not blow it.

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