It was the War to End All Wars but its $3 million memorial planned for Auckland’s Domain is proving to be the project that never ends. 

In a bureaucratic and political battle to make normal local politics blush, it is rapidly becoming a case of We Shall Remember Them – but maybe not on time.

The World War 1 centennial memorial was approved two years ago but no work has started, the designers have walked away, the Mayor and council apparatus have been skirmishing and it could be that a memorial is not in place when the war’s 100 year anniversaries are over in November next year.

The extraordinary turn of events, first reported in the New Zealand Herald last month when alarm bells were raised, this week sees the full Auckland Council take control of the project back off its own Auckland Domain Committee. The committee’s chair, a councillor, Mike Lee, will be relieved of his command on this issue. And the council is set to revoke a whole range of decisions made by Lee and his committee.

The reason? Despite two years elapsed, the memorial project has gone sideways. After being allocated $1 million of ratepayers money towards the estimated $3 million total cost, and having a grand design called Te Takuahi — The Hearth approved for an area near Domain Drive where the grass hill runs down from the Auckland War Memorial at the Museum, it is in no man’s land.

Designers Wraight Athfield Landscape + Architecture walked away from the project after Lee’s committee changed the design, wanting a pathway up the grass hill to link to the Museum area and cutting the budget to $1.4 million. Lee says they did it to protect the interests of ratepayers and of the Domain and Museum. Its thinking looked at access to the memorial area for the disabled and for children in buggies and also considered another path being added towards the new Parnell rail station further down the gully.

The Domain Committee – which also includes Waitemata Local Board chair Pippa Coom and councillors Desley Simpson and Linda Cooper – wanted the project to be ‘notified’, or open to public submissions.

But Mayor Phil Goff, on the advice of the Council chief executive, has deemed the project to have run off the rails and used his power  to ‘call in’ the project and overturn the committee’s wishes.

At the full council meeting on Thursday, Goff will urge his fellow councillors to go back to the original Te Takuahi design, bring the designers back, get it ready for a planning consent by October and race to have the thing finished by the 100th anniversary of the war’s end, Armistice Day, November 11, next year. 

Councillors have been told: “Staff believe that achieving project completion by November 2018 remains possible, but is now challenging, and are unable to provide certainty of completion by that date.”  Money must be secured first, then a contract signed by March so earthworks for the memorial can be done in the relatively drier autumn period.

The delays have put at risk a $650,000 grant from a Lotteries Board committee, given on the understanding the original Te Takuahi would be the design. Without that money, and a further $1.5 million of private donations, the Council will struggle to build the memorial.

The Auckland Design Panel reviewed the original plans and has endorsed them as appropriate for the memorial and for the Domain. It doubted if a pathway up the Domain’s grass was necessary, labelling it “conspicuous and potentially intrusive”. Council officials have tried to find costs savings with Wraight Athfield but none of note could be identified.

Goff wants to establish a Mayoral Advisory Group, principally to help fundraise for the missing $1.4 million. That group would include Simpson, the deputy chair of the local board Shale Chambers, councillor Christine Fletcher, local body veteran Sandra Coney and Renata Blair, of Ngati Whatua.

The proposed resolution for the council on Thursday is to seek in the design a “suitable and subtle way of connecting the feature with the Auckland War Memorial Museum and Court of Honour”. The council will consider capital funding for the project and empower chief executive Stephen Town to explore all possible options to raise the additional funds needed.

More than $200,000 has already been spent on the stalled memorial, including $70,000 to Wraight Athfield.

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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