With two proposals in similar days it seems like our public spaces are up for grabs.
On Thursday we learned that the group who also own the Ferry Building want to build two low rise commercial buildings on Queens Wharf.
A company registered in the Cayman Islands wants permission to build two large commercial buildings on Queens Wharf in exchange for upgrading the downtown ferry terminal.
The Ferry Project Group is proposing two buildings, each with three storeys, stretching halfway up the 350m wharf. There would be public space at ground level and two storeys of commercial space and carparks above.
The project would involve the removal of the Cloud, but retain the historic Shed 10, which has been refurbished as a cruise ship terminal and events venue.
The frontman for the group is businessman Sir Noel Robinson, a longtime supporter of Mayor Len Brown who donated $20,000 to his election campaign last year.
Sir Noel yesterday briefed the Herald on the project, but would not say who was behind it other than that they were “very wealthy individuals” who own the historic Ferry Building through a company registered in the Cayman Islands.
Sir Noel, who does not have a financial interest in the project, said the idea was to take a “pigsty” at the harbour’s edge and turn it into an international precinct with capacity for up to seven extra ferries and public spaces to draw people to Queens Wharf, all underwritten by commercial development.
“All they are saying is, ‘Here’s an idea. We have got the cash to do it. It is not going to cost the ratepayers any money’,” Sir Noel said.
The proposal is drawing a mixed reaction in council circles, where it is among several projects being considered by the City Centre Integration Group, a new bureaucracy co-ordinating and focusing activities on the waterfront and downtown Auckland.
The project is believed to have support from transport officials enticed by the prospect of privately funded ferry facilities, but opposed by Waterfront Auckland, whose waterfront plan enshrines Queens Wharf as the “people’s wharf”.
It’s absolutely clear we need to sort out Queens Wharf, it’s currently a mess however we also know that Waterfront Auckland are currently working through a master plan for it. It’s also clear that we will need buildings on the wharf to help break up the spaces and create destinations to draw customers on to it otherwise the place would just be a barren wasteland that people would avoid.
However while this proposal might address some of those issues, it also creates a lot more of it’s own. Even with almost no activity on the wharf most of the time there is already a problem with too many cars on it. Many drivers seemingly just turn onto the wharf to have a look only to find they can’t go anywhere and turn around again to exit and all of this happens along the natural desire lines that pedestrians like to walk. The proposal above wants to have carparking above the ‘public space’ at ground level. This would just magnify the problems that exist.
I also get the impression with this proposal that the outcome from this plan would be much more like that of its neighbour to the west, Princess Wharf, than it would the public spaces at Wynyard Quarter. Despite supposedly being open to the public the entire Princess Wharf has effectively been privatised – and of course there have been ongoing issues with the development failing to adhere to consent requirements on access to public areas. The road down the middle of Princess Wharf is perhaps an example of what we would see happen to Queens wharf under this proposal. All of this is something I think we need avoid at all costs.
In return for the buildings the proponents of this plan say they will build seven new ferry berths as part of a new terminal. At first this does sound like a good idea and it’s obviously caught the attention of Auckland Transport however I’m failing to see how this is a fair trade for such lucrative land. It’s all very well having a bigger ferry terminal but a question that needs to be answered is how many extra ferries and ferry services are going to be needed to actually make full use of those extra seven berths. Yes we need some improved services but seven berths worth? This is an important issue to address as any new ferry services will not be cheap to run so the additional OPEX required to do so could end up very high.
In my opinion this proposal should be ignored.
The second proposal emerged yesterday in which Precinct Properties want to include some part of Queen Elizabeth Square into their new development.
The Auckland Council is in talks to privatise a section of Queen Elizabeth Square as part of a $300 million redevelopment by Precinct Properties of the Downtown Shopping Centre, say sources.
They say the council is looking at a deal with Precinct Properties for public space outside the Downtown Shopping Centre where a stand of kauri and a basalt fire rock occupy a shaded and windswept part of the square.
A three-storey podium could be built over the area in exchange for a public laneway being included in the development. The deal could include a financial payment from Precinct to the cash-strapped council.
I find myself much less opposed to this proposal and I guess part of the reason is that regardless of how attractive someone might want to make it, it will still be shaded for large parts of the day and an area that people pass through as quickly as possible rather than somewhere people go to enjoy. The creation of a new laneway through the development – presumably on an east-west axis to match what exists on the other side of Britomart – would be a welcome addition to breaking up that block . The return of Little Queen St would also be welcome too. The loss of part of an unused square in return for an open laneway or two activated by retail and hospitality seems like a much better deal to me than the Queens Wharf plan.
A report on the impact to QE2 Square is going to the council’s Development Committee next Thursday. It will be interesting to see the outcome