The idea that the new Auckland super city would begin its life with a $100 million debt forced on it by central government is unconscionable. It's ill-advised and, as Brian Rudman pointed out on Friday, plainly undemocratic.
But that, by all reports, is the scenario. Rugby World Cup minister Murray McCully has been pushing hard for a showpiece project to add lustre to his tournament: a major Queen's Wharf development incorporating a cruise ship terminal. He just doesn't want to pay for it.
The two incumbent mayors who are the present leading candidates for mayor of the grand city both strongly oppose the idea, while Mark Ford, the government appointee heading the super city transition agency is wasting precious time campaigning for the government's favoured option. To say that this just is not Ford's job is putting it mildly.
I'm less convinced by arguments that Queen's Wharf is no place for "party central" at all. Yes, the weather is not great in September, but it's not midwinter either, and there will be thousands of people in the Auckland CBD looking for a good time.
The Herald editorial had it right on Friday:
Equally important, the design will be the first stage of Queens Wharf's permanent development. The $97 million plan leaves little space for a truly "iconic" harbour centrepiece, whether a striking building or something else. That, again, gives considerable reason to pause, as does the fact that time is fast running out for a design to be agreed upon and completed in time for the World Cup.
This, and the Eden Park burden, prescribe a low-cost spruce-up that allows safe and unobstructed access to Queens Wharf, while not precluding the later development of the site to its full potential. Two of the three low-cost options rule themselves out by retaining the eyesore sheds. The decision makes itself
The most sensible option – skittling the ugly sheds on Queen's Wharf and installing high-quality temporary structures for the tournament – also has the considerable virtue of being the cheapest, at $23 million (although even that seems relatively high).
There aren't many bars and restaurants opening onto Quay Street. But surely that's what you'd put in the temporary structures. I imagine that Auckland's restaurants would be delighted to provide some of their fare in market-style stalls for a month. It really doesn't seem that hard.
You want a real crowd problem for the Rugby World Cup? Getting people to and from Eden Park. The present plans rely heavily on a walking-bus operation along Great North Road and over Bond Street. That's a hell of a long way to be walking without shelter if the skies open the way they sometimes do in September.
Murray McCully would be better advised to devote his attention to that issue – which directly relates to the success of the tournament – than to continue trying to collect payment from Auckland ratepayers for something they haven't even been asked if they wish to buy.