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”.

Queens Wharf commercial proposal
An artist’s impression of one of the commercial buildings

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.

Ferry Building
The concrete block building would presumably be replaced

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.

QE2 Square

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.

Little Queen St
Little Queen St in 1940

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

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49 comments

  1. “Registered in the Cayman Islands” – that just about says it all. Such a fine group of business people with Auckland’s interest at heart must shelter behind a paper company registered in a tax haven. At least Precinct Properties is registered in NZ with some good developments to show as a track record. Their shareholders are on public record for inspection.

  2. This is horrific. I can’t believe our Mayor is considering either of these. Not another Hilton, not another loss of downtown amenity.

    The sooner we replace him with Hulse, the better.

    1. Lets stick the facts George.

      I don’t know why you’re so down on Len Brown about this, its not like he’s personally championing the idea or personally going to approve it, unlike say, certain of the current Government Ministers of recent times? So what if some “lobbyist” donated to Len’s campaign, theres lots of the same sorts of lobbyists and property developers elsewhere donating to Councillors campaigns and the of course, the current Governments. Why do you think some dude with Sir in front of his name has automatic rights to having his paid suggestions being taken more seriously as result of him “knowing” the Mayor in a financial sense?

      I’m not a Brown supporter, but you can’t simply dump everything negative at his feet like he’s the “PM” of Auckland City – he has a lot of CCOs like AT, WA and ATEED and others working on these things directly, and those CCOs are generally Government appointees originally for the most part, not Brown’s personal mates.

      So you can’t say Brown is going to “sell off” the wharf or QE2 Square, when at best his say, his **1** vote will be one of nearly 2 dozen that decides if and when these ever go to a full council vote.

  3. I am sure AT are lathering at the mouth at the thought (mere thought mind) of a “free” ferry terminal plan.
    And they won’t look that gift horse in the mouth to realise what a true dog it will be. Princess Wharf in drag is the best description I can find.

    Luckily wiser heads are prevailing over this (hopefully). And I heard on the radio that there are stunning designs out there with a real Pacifica feel to them which will be made public in due course.
    The less cars that drive on to Queens wharf the better in the longer term, and so once we see proposals then we can judge them on their merits.

    As for Queen Street privatisation of part of QE2 square.

    I say lets see the full design first for the Downtown mall redevelopment and this plan change, I’m not signing off on a proposal for that square without the context.
    Precinct Properties have a vested interest in working with Council on good outcomes for the square so I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt for now.

    But approval for this in my mind is not assured either without a lot more details.

  4. Wasn’t it said in the Herald that Rineheart from Australia was funding the proposal? That alone would be enough for me to want it turned down. Part irrational, I know, but this kind of plutocracy dealing makes me sick.

  5. I would take the opposite view

    Allow the wharf with conditions – retain wharf ownership via leasehold, delivery vehicle access only via a controlled entry shared space, design/layout restrictions

    Not allow the remove of an open space at downtown (even if shaded and polluted), though allow some changes to allow undercover (underground?) access to britomart AND the ferry terminal.

    Given third parties are willing to fund the council need to thing about what they want, make sure it is integrated, then put it out to tender.

  6. QE 2 square is very much used by the public every day and although it shrunk after Britomart its still an oasis in summer and that’s the way it should stay..

    As for Queens Wharf, its a mess presently but its the only one on that side of the entire waterfront that the public have almost full access to although its been cut back with cruise liners. Both are PUBLIC spaces not play things for the wealthy.

    Who the hell is Len Brown to sell off our space to private developers?. Yes I know that’s really why Auckland Council was created by Rodney and John but Brown has no bottom line does he or any guiding principals, he’s anybody’s on any given day!

    1. A public space is just a waste if no one uses it. By bringing some development to the area, the rest of the area can be opened up and developed properly as an open space.

      I picture something like North wharf with a good mix of retail (though north wharf is all restaurants) and a large public park area which is used a lot.

    2. QEII is not an amazing space, I’d be happy to see the swap if the replacement lane was better. If it were a proper pedestrian lane like Vulcan it would create a defacto square at the sunny east end anyway, and again where it meets Albert.

      I hope that is the developers intent, more retail frontage, more foot traffic… An not a glorified driveway to flood cars into parking, trucks into loading docks, and skip bins lining the street.

      1. My interpretation of ‘pedestrian lane’ was just the ability to walk through the (now much larger) ground floor of the mall from one side to another. This will be the case whether the floor print is expanded or not as they will want their mall to be a thoroughfare to increase pedestrian numbers walking though their site.

      2. Nick,
        I concur with Harvey, its just an excuse to “cover over” the area and have your retail stores facing it, so it may be a “nice idea” for Precinct, doesn’t mean it good for AC.

        However, they may also expect to be able to have delivery vehicles using it to access loading docks and even parking access for cars (to allow more retail frontage elsewhere).

        If the latter design – which is basically a back door to the redeveloped Downtown site, its a non-starter.

        And as Precinct will be in a prime spot to capitalise on the expanded post-CRL Britomart station, they need to realise that they need to be a bit careful here, if they play silly buggers, they may find their site acquired under the PWA for CRL purposes and end with up with a current (pre-CRL) valuation, no land or development and little else to show for it. AC will then be able ot build CRL and sell the land off post-CRL for a heck of a lot more – even after 5+ years of holding cost is allowed for.

        Personally I’d like to see a proper detailed Masterplan for the whole precinct done with post-CRL in mind, then we can work out the best way for council – AT/AC/WA etc) to deliver it.

        If that means working with Precinct to do some land swaps, fine, but AC need to come out with more than they go in with, especially given how the benefits of CRL will mostly accrue to private enterprise even though its public money thats driving it. If Precinct won’t play ball, then PWA can be used to get the land and do a “proper job”.

        I noted that talk the other day on This Way Up interview about “Happy cities” that mention was made of the fact that councils in North Amercia were capturing 80% of the land value uplift as a result of their urban redevelopment processes. And thats the kind of outcome we should be working from as “starting point” not accepting some vague gimme of some more rateable properties.

        Giving away public space (even of poor quality) is not an excuse when better options are on the table, even if that preserves the status quo of the poor design we have now for 10 years. In 20 or more years who will remember what the “old” QE2 Square looked like if the new improved (and still AC owned) one is way way much better – even if it took 10 years to get there

        I point out the last major Council approved CBD “land swap” deal ended up with SkyCity and the InterCity Bus Terminal fiasco and look how thats turned/turning out?
        [Princess Wharf was Ports of Aucklands’ doing not Auckland (City) Councils]

        Do we want a repeat of either of these?

        1. Well that is jumping to a conclusion that I don’t think can be made either way from te report. I’d hope, however, that a new lane means an actual legal road, outdoors and not part of the development.

          1. I hope you are right.

            However, but whats the net difference from a open air lane/road with air-bridges over it, from a covered atrium with shops inside it at multiple levels?

            Not a lot. And a covered area using QE2 square land is what the article indicates that Precinct is clearly looking to get out of the deal.
            “3 Level podium over the QE2 square land” is pretty clear.

            Actual quote “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.”

            Seems your idea of an open “road” – open to the sky that is, doesn’t match what is indicated that Precinct want.
            “A public laneway” – sounds more like the building in Takutai square where Westpac and co are located.

            i.e. a fancy atrium thats still inside a building. Has all the downsides that suggest and none of the upsides of a true open air road.
            And thta only is as light an airy as it is as the building is 3 storeys and has transparent roof panels on it. Precinct won’t do that as the rest of the site will be built to the max height allowed – 13-21 storeys?

            The only conclusion I reach of what they are seeking to get a similar design to Takutai – using public space to do it.
            [Why even ask for QE2 land if thats not going to part of the public laneway proposal?]

            Offering cash implies that council are missing out on something, and hints the land council is forgoing is worth quite a lot so council is losing big time.

            Heck what is the value of QE2 square as a building site? Council could remove the open space designation on QE2 square, develop a 13+ story building on it as of right [as per PAUP rules], sell ior lease it, then use the money raised to buy some less built on sites nearby and do a QE2 “v2” if they wanted, and all without Precinct having much say.

            I’m not wedded to QE2 sqaure – so I’m not saying no, but want to see a lot more detail first and the options and opportunity costs before I’d even consider it.

            We shall no doubt see in time what they’re proposing, and in any case, its easy to propose something at the planning and hearing stages, then back out of it later during construction “as too hard”/”expensive” or “not practical”.

            So council have to have real enforceable agreements that protects (at least, and if possible, improves) public access to this part of town.
            Its vital especially given how important the waterfront area will be in the coming decades.

            The worst outcome would be for council to sell Precinct the QE2 square land, for some promises of future “access” in the development
            I’d like to think council is smarter than that, not sure the councillors are though, or at least smart enough to resist the easy money precinct are offering.

          2. I don’t agree with your conclusion, I read it as they want to build the podium on the square and have a lane next to it. They don’t need any land swap to put an atrium on their site. A while back there was the suggestion they’d extend Tyler st through to Lower Albert, I.e along the back of the HSBC building. That probably requires more land area than the square takes up now. The point would be so you could get a rectangular floor plate in the remaining bit.

            If that rumour is true then that sounds fine to me.

          3. “Precinct won’t do that as the rest of the site will be built to the max height allowed – 13-21 storeys?”
            From memory there is an approval on the site (obtained by Westfield) for a 40 or 45 storey tower.

        2. Oh and land acquired under the PWA has to be offered back to the original owners I it is not used for the purpose it was acquired for. In other words council can’t sell off or develop any land unless they’ve offered it back to precinct first.

          1. Sure, Precinct can get the remnants of the land back that AC don’t hang onto it all, or reconfigure the site, and if AC don’t develop it separately, and that will be at (current) .i.e. “Post-CRL” market rates, not the same price (pre-CRL) they bought it at.

            And if council retain ownership of the site once they’ve put the CRL through it, they could develop a 13 story block of land on it for lease like any other landlord using the rental income to more than pay the costs of the holding costs of the site and (now demolished) Downtown building. All without needed Precinct’s buy in.

          2. They would have to buy it from a willing seller to do that, they couldn’t do property developments under the public works act.

  7. My impression of the Queens Wharf proposal is that the developers have gone to the media about this with plans of what they want, I wouldn’t confuse that with this being something the council is seriously considering. I’d be very surprised if they were, the Princess Wharf precedent is more than enough warning, and the Downtown Ferry Terminal is perfectly fine as it is, I don’t see why 7 more berths are needed? I’d prefer Queens Wharf to be left in the hands of Waterfront Auckland who’ve already shown themselves to be very good at developing public spaces. I’d also tell Auckland Transport to bugger off and stop forcing WA to include all that parking and roading at its entrance – something WA doesn’t actually want either.

  8. A few thoughts about the proposals:
    I suspect Fullers would be against any increase in ferry berths as this would have the effect of giving space for competing operators…. or require Fullers to buy more boats to fill the”spare” berths to keep competitors out.
    In the case of Downtown Square the idiotic kauri plantation should have never been implemented (forest giants do not and have not thrived in an exposed downtown environment) and the basalt rock that can’t decide whether it is on fire or a fountain. The other two things in the area are the ‘concourse’ supposedly there as shelter from rain that fails totally as it is too high to provide any ( rain seldom falls vertically) and the entry/exit from Britomart which surfaces in a disconnected way in the square.
    These things need resolving but whether they should be by passing the space over to Precinct is another matter. My hope is that when the tunnels are extended under the square a new more sensible space will result.

  9. Aside from the fact that the basalt rock is an aesthetic crime and contributes nothing to what is effectively a mis-located, ill-designed, banally suburban space in the centre of the city, I’ve always thought it was a perfect metaphor for New Zealand’s approach to climate change. A sort of pathetic attempt at burn, baby, burn while doing absolutely nothing.

  10. Firstly a wharf is a wharf. It is for ships to tie up to and the wharfside facilities should be related to the needs of the ships. Placing faux cruise liner styled hotels and faux container crane office blocks gets away from the original function of the facility. As for Queens Wharf being a pigsty. Apart from the rapidly deteriorating Cloud and the eyesore Shed !0 there is nothing on it and the rubber necking motorists are easily removed. The pigsty is across the bay to the Hilton Hotel and the tatty apartment blocks that surround it, again rapidly deteriorating.
    So to the rich bitch tax dodging Aussie dame I say “bugger off!”.

    Secondly the QE Square. If anyone cares to read the headlines of the NZ Herald at the time the Downtown development was first mooted you will see Auckland architects warning of turbulence and wind funnel problems of the proposed towers. Try waiting for a bus at the Lower Albert St bus stop to see what I mean.
    We are told that the Downtown Centre is to be demolished and also that the buses have to vacate the Skycity bus terminal site. Combined with this is the fact that the QE Square is somewhere where nobody really wants to go. Surely there is a developer and an architect in Auckland who can come up with some sort of proposal that allows for all of these urgent needs. Planning in Auckland needs to be more that Two Dollar pop up shops and cardboard box students accommodation.

    1. “We are told that the … and also that the buses have to vacate the Skycity bus terminal site”

      Skycity can’t kick out the bus terminal without breaking their resource consents. And they can do that only if AC lets them get away with renegging on those resource consent requirements.
      So its Skycity’s job to find and pay for a better home for that bus terminal and pay for the moving of it. If they won’t do that, then the bus terminal stays put.

      Its not the Councils job to solve SkyCity’s problem for it, so lets get that idea off the table.

      “QE Square is somewhere where nobody really wants to go.”

      Thats because its only a means to get to or from the Downtown centre currently. Post CRL and with a good design, it may well become “**the** place to be.

      Compare the current Britomart Precinct with how it was when it was a tacky bus terminal and tacky parking building.
      No one ever went willingly to Britomart before the area was redeveloped, now look at it leaping ahead, and once Quay Street is sorted with traffic, then that whole area will really come to life with people..

      QE2 Square can and should be the same..Its a diamond in the rough, but do people discard un-cut diamonds they find ‘cos they’re not the shiny expensive ones like you buy in the shops?
      No you get them cut and polished.

      Its called value-add in the economic parlance that Accountants and bean counters understand, and that’s “A Good Thing”TM for both Private enterprise **and** councils and governments to do.

  11. Whilst I agree in part about the vehicle use on Queens Wharf It also needs to noted that this area serves as the only pickup/drop off point for those using the ferries – notably Waiheke Island.
    Over the years the access for this purpose has been moved further and further from Pier 2. Whilst this may not seem a problem for those fit and able to walk to/from Britomart or further this can present problems for the older travelers or those with baggage, children etc trying to get to Pier 2.The whole northern side of Quay St in the proximity of the ferry building is traffic lane with the southern side having the closest areas taken by bus parking or 60min paid parking.
    Another problem is that the pedestrian footpath across the face of the ferry building is considered by cyclists as part of their network further adding to the hazards.
    (If you recognise the above it has been copied from the previous time that cars on Queens Wharf was discussed)

    1. If/when quay street is redesigned, the drop off zone can be there. And why does a passenger service require a pickup/drop off zone (said with a cheeky smile on my face)

        1. WRITING IN CAPS IS THE SAME AS LOUD YELLING!

          Well it’s not a walkway either according to that map. (what a piece of fiction that thing is!).

    2. Perhaps better signage is needed or in an ideal world a lane of traffic finally be removed to allow on road separated cycle lanes, until then the footpath is as Nick says actually designated as a cycle way.

  12. “And why does a passenger service require a pickup/drop off zone” Try using that argument at the airport. Cheeky smile or not.

  13. Princess wharf is sadly pretty much a disaster now. Such a waste of space for the public.

    I would hate for this to happen to queens wharf too. This proposal looks like it will be the same unimpressive horror show.

  14. I think the cloud looks good and should be permanent. When you see it from a distance from the harbour bridge it stands out and looks pretty good to me.

    1. Please no. Buses do NOT combine well as cross-movements in a people space. It’s already struggling with all the car traffic and and out there. Why add buses? PT should stay parallel to the waterfront – on Quay or Customs – where it belongs.

      1. Probably the same as when John Banks was mayor, they all deal in the same sort of do nothing politics that Cameron Brewer specialises in on Auckland Council at present.

    1. That is something that as a new immigrant I don’t get. Why is it like this? Are there historical reasons or something?

      1. To be fair Waterfront Auckland I understand didn’t want parking on Queens Wharf, Auckland Transport on the other hand did and required they put it in.
        @nonsense – it because we’ve had 60 years of monomodal transport investment and a whole generation of planners at Auckland Transport who can’t and won’t ever envisage it being any other way. Added to that a government which requires 95+% of AT’s money be spent on roading means there’s very little left over for anything except roading and car parks to service all that roading.

  15. Please, people: There is no such place as Princess Wharf. It’s PRINCES dammit!

    [Sorry – bad spelling aggravates my Tourettes].

        1. You don’t think it refers to the artist formerly known as Prince?

          That would be a great name for the wharf: The Wharf Formerly Known as Prince Wharf

          Now known as: Carpark (thanks AT!)

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