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Viv Beck: Waterfront plan stop-gap thinking to placate public

Monday 6 Nov 2017

This piece by Heart of the City CEO Viv Beck was published in the NZ Herald on 6 November 2017.

Plans released by Ports of Auckland last week respond to issues that have been raised by the public, which on one level is positive. They have served them up for discussion before decisions are made. That should be commended.

However, what we see is a potpourri of solutions to the issues that have been raised. 
Cars on the waterfront are an eyesore and a waste of prime waterfront land. Solution? Cover them up in a five-storey car park plonked in amongst the workings of the port.

People want more public space on the waterfront. Solution? Add some green space on top of the car park building.

People don't want reclamation into the harbour. Solution? Extend into the harbour and make some incremental changes to the wharf configuration.

The list goes on and basically we end up with a set of disconnected band-aids designed to appease front-of-mind public concerns and get us through another 30 years. They may sit well beside the new cement silo but adding another bunker does not represent visionary, integrated thinking for the best use of downtown Auckland's prime waterfront.

But there is a deeper problem that needs addressing.

Auckland can be one of the world's great cities, with a vibrant, successful heart that capitalises on our beautiful harbour. But achieving the best result for our waterfront as a whole requires a new way of working across Auckland Council and its council-controlled entities. There are talented people in these organisations but too much effort goes on mopping up after disconnected decisions are made rather than getting it right from the outset. The City Rail Link's blinkered approach to mitigating the impact of construction on business is a classic example. It has taken far too long to mop this into shape with a decent approach to supporting business.

When the Council released plans a few months ago for Auckland's city centre, which delivers around $14 billion per annum to GDP, it was great to finally see joined-up thinking which included public transport. But the concern Heart of the City raised at that time was that the port must be part of the overall discussion. Not only to ensure the plans for our waterfront are as good as they can be, but also because planning for something that will move is different from planning for something that might. That decision is critical. What we have seen with these latest plans reinforces this concern and many questions are raised. For example, how will they integrate with work under way for adjacent locations such as Quay and Lower Queen St? How will they fit with the aim to create a legacy from development associated with the America's Cup? How will the timing of the various components align?

If the port plans go to public consultation in their current form, there is a huge risk that decisions are taken in isolation and that we don't end up with the best result for the city. The relevant group across Council, including Ports of Auckland, needs to come together urgently to ensure the design for the waterfront and adjacent areas is connected and opens up as much space as possible to the public. The timing must also be aligned to get the optimum result for the America's Cup.

Any decision to move the port will take time but we need to make sure that changes that happen in the interim respect the city's identity and cultural heritage and are developed as a unique and inviting space for all to enjoy.