A key component of the plan to develop a university campus in downtown Tauranga has been signed off by the city council, but not before some councillors argued against the 33-year rent-free deal for the land.

The University of Waikato, the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic and Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi have formed a partnership to develop a tertiary campus in three stages, starting with the opening of a campus in 2015 for up to 700 students.

It is planned to be sited on the two off-street carparks opposite the Bay of Plenty Times in Durham St, with the partnership saying the financial feasibility of the project requires free use of the land for 33 years.

The final go-ahead for the project now depends on the three partners obtaining funding for construction of stage one.

Councillor Murray Guy sided with some public submitters to the project who said that 33 years at no cost was too long.

He believed the partnership should have at least demonstrated that it had tried to obtain funding to buy the land off ratepayers. Failing that, he favoured a commercial lease being progressively introduced, starting in 10 years.

Councillor Catherine Stewart said there should be some value, no matter how small, from day one of the campus getting the go-ahead.

Councillor Rick Curach said that having read the submissions, he now agreed that 33 years was too generous and that the campus should have matured enough in 10 years to provide some returns to ratepayers.

Mayor Stuart Crosby said the council was not locked in to 33 years and that there were trigger points before then to reconsider the lease arrangements. The tertiary partnership will reimburse the council for lost revenue from the carparks totalling about $110,000 a year.

Councillor Larry Baldock said the rent-free deal was crucial to the business case to get the campus funded. Yesterday's decision favouring the 33-year deal was won 7-4. Also opposing was Councillor Bill Grainger.

The other supporters were Tony Christiansen, Bill Faulkner, Terry Molloy, Wayne Moultrie and David Stewart. The project was a pivotal part of the council's strategy to revitalise the city centre.

Other decisions yesterday impacting on the city centre included the council giving the waterfront redevelopment taskforce more flexibility on how the $5 million was spent over the next 10 years - provided it came back to the council with deviations to the existing plan.

The construction of a pier opposite Masonic Park to house the waka has been brought forward so that the $800,000 cost was spent over two years starting July 1, 2014, rather than the original timing of 2019-20.

The council also agreed to bring forward by one year the $100,000 needed to fund a consent for the development of a new museum. The payment of the money was originally timetabled for 2015 but the Tauranga Moana Museum Trust asked that it be paid in 2014.