Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Brian Rudman: Jostling contenders good argument for supreme arbiter

Mayor Dick Hubbard's vision for the Tank Farm includes "some strategically located canals", which conjures up a very relaxing picture.

But with Transit New Zealand's vision, including a harbour tunnel entrance popping up somewhere in the same vicinity, "strategically located" could well be the operative words. Otherwise Mr Hubbard's Venetian dream could suddenly disappear down the gurgler to become part of a rapid underground gondola service.

With Auckland City and the port company and Transit, to name just three, each jostling for their vision of this precious piece of waterfront to gain supremacy comes another argument in favour of establishing a single controlling authority for the area. An independent body to act as referee between the various competing interests, and to be the champion for the interests of Aucklanders as a whole.

It's true that Transit has made no decisions on when or where, or even if, another harbour crossing is in the offing. But it is slowly edging its way in that direction. Just over two years ago, working in cooperation with the Auckland Regional Council and Auckland and North Shore City councils, Transit came up with two "preferred options" if another crossing was to be "constructed in the vicinity of the existing harbour bridge".

Of the two, one was a bridge, 500m west of the existing harbour bridge, linking into a tunnel under Ponsonby. The other was an "immersed-tube tunnel under the harbour" which would emerge "near the cement silos on the Western Reclamation". The tunnel would "link with a southbound cut-and-cover tunnel to Halsey St and a northbound cut-and-cover tunnel from Beaumont St". There was also to be a connection somehow to the "central motorway junction".

The report admits these cut-and-cover tunnels would "impact" - an understatement to end all understatements - on any future redevelopments in the area from Fanshawe St the length of the reclamation, down to Wynyard Wharf.

In addition, the cut-and-cover tunnels left and right across to Halsey St and Beaumont St would have "significant impacts". Then there's the little matter of 20-30m high ventilation shafts.

The October 2003 report acknowledges it would take 13-16 years to plan for and construct any crossing. In August last year Transit announced Tommy Parker had been hired as its "additional harbour crossing study director".

Since then he's been busy working to get agreement amongst "stakeholders" as to the objectives and methodology of the feasibility study. He's hoping to begin the investigation proper in the next financial year.

With the passing of the Land Transport Management Act in November 2003, well after the earlier study had been published, Mr Parker says all options are now back in the mix. That said, as far as Wynyard Wharf is concerned, Transit "would like to protect our interests". As a result, Transit has asked Auckland City and Ports of Auckland "to safeguard the option of landing the tunnel at Wynyard Point".

He says one possibility, if a tunnel were built, would be to include a public transit tube linking the North Shore busway with the Tank Farm and the Britomart transport centre.

Admittedly, much of this seems little past the "dreaming aloud" phase, but it does draw attention to the fact that drawing up plans for apartments and office blocks on the Tank Farm could be a little premature, at least until Transit has indicated what its preferred plans are. But in the present climate, who sets the priorities? Who does the road builder refer its preference to when it arrives at one? And who decides which vision is more important?

The problem is we have four publicly owned cooks - ARC, Ports of Auckland, Auckland City and Transit - all busy trying to create their own recipe for dish of the day. The potential for ending up with something less than palatable looms large.

This is a 30-plus year project. The thought of generation after generation of new local politicians and bureaucrats being bloodied in continuing warfare on the fields of the Tank Farm is hardly a vision to savour. Especially when it's a nightmare we could so easily avoid.

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