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Am Cup: Political shiacking triggers OIA Request

by Richard Gladwell/Todd Niall RNZ 25 Feb 2018 20:51 PST 26 February 2018
Originally known as the Lighter Basin, the Viaduct Harbour was constructed by Viaduct Holdings/Tramco using land purchased from the Auckland Harbour Board in the 1990's © Richard Gladwell

Radio NZ's Todd Niall, a veteran of several America's Cups, has tried to shine a light through the fog of media posturing by various parties involved in the Base planning if the Auld Mug is defended in Auckland.

In late January, Radio New Zealand filed requests under the Official Information Act for correspondence between the Auckland Council and Minister of Economic Development in the Labour-led Government.

The contents of the letters and emails have been published on the Radio New Zealand website. An email from the Minister sent on January 20, 2018 is heavily redacted for reasons which are not clear. If it was personal comment about officials one would have expected name deletion to be sufficient. Equally if there was financial compensation paid then that amount might be redacted, but not multiple paragraphs.

The difficulties in communication referred to in the correspondence in late January would appear to have become even more dysfunctional during February.

The period covered by the letters and emails is prior to the salvos of plans released on Wednesday February 14, first by the MBIE office and followed by Emirates Team NZ a couple of hours later. The followed another plan in a media barrage by property moguls Viaduct Harbour Holdings Ltd. The company which owns most of property surrounding Viaduct Harbour and used for bases in the 2000 and 2003 America's Cup, and since re-developed, proposed that the 2021 Am Cup bases be shifted completely onto Viaduct Point, a deal that was very similar to one rejected by the Governing Body of Auckland Council earlier in November 2017.

Also believed to be still on the table is the Hosting Fee - to cover Emirates Team New Zealand's costs for staging the regatta which are not able to be recovered by sponsorship and entry fees and for which NZ Inc is the primary beneficiary.

The Labour led Government has appointed corporate heavyweight Michael Stiassny as the counterfoil Team New Zealand's London-based commercial advisor in negotiations over event funding.

Todd Niall reports:

Auckland's Mayor Phil Goff and former colleague Cabinet Minister David Parker have criticised public officials working on plans for an America's Cup Village.

Mr Parker has referred to "unwarranted claims" and Mr Goff to the timeliness and consistency of information, in correspondence between the pair obtained by RNZ.

The exchanges between the two lead negotiators dealing with the cup defender Team New Zealand, convey frustration from late December.

"Information does not always appear to have been presented to both of us in a timely or consistent manner," wrote Mr Goff to the Mr Parker on 22 January.

"I share your view fully that our decision-making must be informed by coherent and comprehensive advice from our officials and other stakeholders."

RNZ asked whether Mr Goff was referring to the council's property development agency Panuku, or to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Mr Goff's office replied it "refers broadly to advice received from officials by both Mayor and Minister."

"I have been a little frustrated by some of the unwarranted claims that have been made around the cost of the (Wynyard) Point option," Mr Parker wrote to the Mr Goff a month earlier.

He was referring to the view expressed by officials that the potential cost of breaking the lease of bulk fuel storage operator Stolthaven, on the Point, ruled out trying to secure that land.

Mr Parker pursued that possibility parallel to the council starting the planning process on the plan it had backed.

In mid-February Mr Goff and Mr Parker announced a deal with Stolthaven was agreed, making Wynyard Point a more viable option for team bases.

They jointly unveiled a "hybrid" alternative to the one in the planning process, which cut the Halsey Street wharf extension to 40 metres, and proposed five bases on the point.

Team New Zealand bristled, calling the design unworkable and that they'd been surprised by its release while negotiations continue.

Mr Goff's letter of 22 January reads like the continuation of a conversation begun in a letter from Mr Parker two days earlier.

Half of Mr Parker's 20 January letter has been blacked out prior to its release to RNZ, so it's not clear whether he too expressed concerns about officials.

RNZ has appealed those deletions, to the Ombudsman.

For the full story, Base project timeline and redacted emails click here

For the full story broadcast on Morning Report click here.

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