Monday, April 10, 2006

Brian Rudman: Tank farm - Pleasure park or official cash cow?

So much for the official vision of how the Wynyard Point tank farm should be redeveloped. Aucklanders have overwhelmingly rejected the city council's proposals and given clear directions on what they think should happen.

The clearest demand from the 1465 people who responded to Auckland City's request for comment is for more open space. A resounding 76 per cent said there is not enough in the city's blueprint.

Echoing this is the overwhelming roar of opposition to the amount of commercial development proposed, with just 7 per cent "supporting" the plans and another 9 per cent "somewhat supporting" them. Lined up on the other side are 60 per cent who "oppose" and 15 per cent who "somewhat oppose."

In particular, there's widespread objection to the proposed height of up to 16 storeys for both residential and commercial development, with only 17 per cent offering full or partial support, compared to 66 per cent who opposed or somewhat opposed it.

Respondents did like the idea of retaining the marine industry flavour, with around 63 per cent saying the proposed mix was "about right".

Around 18 per cent feel too much area has being set aside for marine- related use, but this is counter-balanced by the 19 per cent who said there should be more. In addition, plans for a marine events precinct scored 81 per cent support.

There was also mass support for it being a car free zone, with just 5 per cent recording opposition to the idea of it being "a pedestrian and cycling environment."

If these results aren't a clear enough signal of the public desire, then the politicians and officials are also on notice that a powerful and well-funded lobby group is waiting in the wings, about to launch a campaign to ensure this publicly owned land becomes one big park, highlighted by a landmark public building.

The survey results coincided with the Committee for Auckland lobby reiterating, on Thursday, their demand for an independent governance structure for the whole waterfront development project.

I've canvassed the committee's desire for such a stand-alone structure before, so won't repeat myself, but their delegation to the city council did warn that no other city in the world had embarked on such a waterfront renewal project without setting up a special-purpose body to see it through.

The results of Auckland City's public consultation process highlight the major disconnect between how the public wants the city's front door to be developed, and what Auckland City, Auckland Regional Council and Ports of Auckland have in mind.

The public's vision leans towards the pleasure garden end of the scale, seeing it as a once-only chance to reclaim this reclaimed land in the middle of the expanding metropolis, and develop it as a fabulous destination, for locals and tourists.

Officialdom has its own vision, seemingly dominated by flashbacks of Scrooge McDuck wallowing in his swimming pool of golden coins.

Our masters pay lip service to the public desire for parkland, but are entrapped by other political pressures, such as the need to milk the site for as much as they can to help feed the region's appetite for more public transport and stormwater drains.

I don't envy them their predicament, stuck, as they are, between the proverbial rock and hard place. But I do suggest an independent waterfront renewal authority as a perfect escape hatch.

Go to the Government with evidence from around the world of successful waterfront renewal programmes. Illustrate it with examples of the major national economic benefits that have resulted in the countries concerned.

Persuade the Government to enact the requisite legislation, then embark on a renewal programme that focuses first and foremost on the site itself, and on what that development can do for Auckland as a whole.

Taking control out of the hands of politicians and bureaucrats who spend every waking hour, and much of their sleep, I suspect, trying to conjure up new funding sources for electrifying rail and the like, will be a blessing for both the Tank Farm and the would-be ARC alchemists. The Tank Farm will get the makeover it deserves.

As for the ACC and ARC functionaries, they'll be able to escape the odium they risk by following their present course. They might also ponder the corpses of Mayor Les Mills, who ignored the public over Britomart, and Mayor Banks, who did likewise over the unwanted Eastern Highway.

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