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Marine Industry wants to restablish Auckland as City of Sails

by Richard Macalister, President MIA 31 May 21:34 PDT 1 June 2018
Vestas 11th Hour Racing rigging and doing final preparations before trialling in Auckland's Viaduct Basin © Kate Wilson / Vestas 11th Hour Racing

As Auckland City continues to develop its waterfront it is important that sailing and boating remains a focus in downtown Auckland, says Richard Macalister, the newly elected President of the NZ Marine Industries Association.

Many cities have a downtown with high density apartment living and a café culture however few have the outstanding harbour environment that Auckland enjoys. Yachting and Boating have provided the catalyst for legacy transition in downtown Auckland it is a path we must continue to pursue and the upcoming America’s Cup provides that opportunity. The risk is the central and local governments get blindsided by populism and short term gains.

Auckland is facing a very exciting era in development of the waterfront region. The catalyst being provided by the upcoming 2021 America’s Cup and the city must choose between a path of political grandstanding and populism or embracing a strategy that defines Auckland, and New Zealand, to the World for years to come.

One only has to look at the development of the waterfront of Auckland city the catalyst of which were the Round The World Races of the ’80-90’s and the America’s Cup defences in 2000 and 2003. It transformed the city from one without a real central heart to one that is vibrant and exciting and one that we are proud to showcase overseas visitors.

The continuation of that evolution of the Auckland City waterfront is far from complete and the decisions taken by local and central Government over the next 12 months will be critical for the heart of Auckland. The problems arise out of the shortcomings of capitalism and politics and one that the public should analyse with caution as they read the headlining grabbing statements that will appear in the next 12 months that are often designed to satisfy a perceived political base or a short term KPI within an employment contract. Neither leads to good outcomes.

One of the most talked about Council decisions was when Auckland Council decided to drop the slogan “City of Sails” to the new one which I would challenge most Aucklanders to recite from memory. Wellington has just been voted the “Most Liveable City” which is somewhat at odds with the new Auckland slogan. It was particularly interesting that the front page advertisement of the New Zealand Herald on Thursday 31st May was posted by Wellington City with the headline “Don’t let this knock the wind out of your sails”.

Wellington should be proud of their achievement but again it reinforces that for most people Auckland remains the “City of Sails”. When you travel the World some of the Unique Selling Points of Auckland are the outdoor opportunities offered by what many claim would be the best City Harbour in the World. When visitors fly in they are often overwhelmed by the number of sails on the Harbour which defines it from any other city.

Extrapolating from that point is the fact that sailing is a pure sport harvesting the wind which aligns ourselves well with the 100% Pure Slogan. It reflects the fact that we have this outstanding natural environment in which the city engages and the Sails on the Harbour are the most obvious thing when one arrives from overseas. It defines our city well and despite Auckland Council having changed the slogan many still use it. Many international and domestic airline pilots continue to welcome their passengers to the CITY OF SAILS as they approach Auckland from the air and I bet that many passenger liner captains do the same as they weave their way through yachts on many summer days approaching Waitemata Harbour.

Many of the arguments centre around the Superyacht industry, again because that is what creates headlines, however the vibrancy around the central city from a maritime perspective is far greater and encompasses launching ramps, small boat fishing and the plethora of boats utilising the harbour for racing or cruising on weekdays or weekends. It is a hive of activity and adds to the vibrancy of Auckland City.

It is unfortunate that some Councillors present nonsensical reports to try to support an outcome that suits their political agenda. The economic impact report that was undertaken analysing the Americas Cup benefit to the economy in 2000-2003 showed the contribution to the national GDP, which would not have occurred should the event not have been staged, was in excess of NZ$500 million.

We are expecting up to 160 superyachts to visit Auckland in 2020 to 2021 and with each on average spending $2,700,000, in mostly Auckland’s economy – that alone adds up to $432,000,000.

The business case put forward by the Queensland State Government last week stated that superyacht activity in 2016 brought in A$630 million of business into the State economy and supported 4,500 jobs in SE Australia alone and on the back of Auckland hosting the 36th America’s Cup are looking to increase this substantially over the next 5 years.

Having been involved with the industry for 30+ years I am fully aware of the socio-economic benefits the industry brings to the whole country but as importantly it helps create an identity for Auckland City being a fun-loving, outdoor and environmentally friendly city. One may argue that we do not always live up to these perceptions however they are ones that we must continue to aspire to.

The challenge we have is that Australia, in the lead-up to the America’s Cup have acknowledged the significant benefits conferred by the America’s Cup most notably with the Superyacht sector and have government support to create an infrastructure to take that industry away from New Zealand. Where we are fortunate is that both central and local government have worked well with organisations such as the Marine Industry Association to create a regulatory environment that supports this industry and as such we are well ahead of our Trans Tasman neighbours in this regard however we must not rest on our laurels. There are plans on the table with Auckland Council to create a footprint that continues the development to support the marine industry for years to come and we applaud the Council for this initiative. This involves the creation of a superyacht maintenance base with 600 tonne travel-lifts capable of handling some of the largest superyachts roaming the oceans of the World.

The problem with the current resource consent associated with the development of the Auckland waterfront is that it focuses on 2021 event only and not preserving the waterfront for the children of tomorrow. Globally the number of superyachts roaming the oceans of the World is increasing and they are always looking for new and exciting destinations outside of Europe. The Southern Hemisphere is going to continually increase with or without an America’s Cup and the planning decisions we make today will determine whether Auckland can provide the support required or whether we gift all the hard work that has already been done to Queensland. The event itself, whenever it is based in New Zealand, will always provide a spike in visitations, however even in years without an event the increased activity will be a significant contributor to both spending and the vibrancy of the City.

As a consequence it is important that the development of the waterfront is done in a way that the building of this support infrastructure is done in a way that it is permanent and can always be transformed to support the infrastructure associated with events that may occur in decades to come.

The “City of Sails” aptly defines our wonderful City and I think most Aucklanders would welcome a return to that slogan whilst urging both local and central governments to preserve the maritime infrastructure in downtown Auckland so that we can host these maritime events such as the America’s Cup, Round The World races and International Boatshows in 2021 and beyond. We have had the privilege to enjoy them and we should extend that privilege to our children. If we fail to incorporate this into the current development plans the opportunity will be lost forever.

The NZ Marine Industry is taking the lead to re-establish Auckland as THE CITY OF SAILS for the benefit of all New Zealanders.

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