A week ago we discussed the possibility of the council selling Queen Elizabeth Square to Precinct properties and during the week the council debated it at it’s Development Committee allowing new details to emerge. The report that accompanied the discussion provides a lot of hints at what the thinking is around what this part of town could look like in the future, here’s the executive summary.

The Downtown Shopping Centre (DSC) block, sitting between Lower Queen Street and Lower Albert Street, is strategically placed at the point where the city centre meets the waterfront and various public transport modes interchange (ferry, bus and rail). Its future development is critically important to the delivery of the City Rail Link (CRL) and has the potential to contribute to the realisation of some key City Centre Masterplan 2012 (CCMP) outcomes, most notably, the transformation of the Quay Street area as a landmark waterfront space.

Almost uniquely in a city centre context land in the block is owned by only two parties. Precinct Properties New Zealand Limited (PPNZL) owns the DSC and the two adjacent commercial office towers (HSBC Tower, 1 Queen Street and Zurich House, 21 Queen Street) and council owns Queen Elizabeth Square (QE Square).

The alignment of the proposed City Rail Link (CRL) requires new rail tunnels to be constructed through the site occupied by the DSC. PPNZL purchased the site in 2012 fully aware of the CRL designation process and associated construction requirements and motivated by the opportunity to agree a joint development proposal with Council/AT that would enable the rail tunnels to be built in conjunction with the redevelopment of the block.

PPNZL recently embarked on a master planning exercise for the properties in its ownership within the DSC block. The initial concept design work suggests basement parking, a three storey street based retail podium with potential roof top space and a 36 storey commercial tower placed on the corner of Lower Albert Street and Custom Street West.

As part of the integrated redevelopment of the block, PPNZL have identified an opportunity to optimise the retail offer and potential built form outcome through the inclusion of QE Square in a comprehensive development.

Council staff believes that the inclusion of QE Square in a comprehensive development could provide the opportunity to advance the CCMP goals by further enhancing overall retail vitality and viability and public space provision in the city centre. Proceeds from the disposal of QE Square, an underutilised and poorly performing city space, would enable the creation of new public space that better meets the needs of the area. This new ‘offsite’ space would be over and above any publicly accessible space (e.g. laneways and rooftop space) provided within the block as part of satisfying the operative Central Area District Plan provisions.

Comprehensive redevelopment also provides the opportunity to reinstate the historic built form of the block lost through large-scale demolition and the closure of Little Queen Street in the 1970s. Current proposals include a reinterpreted Little Queen Street and the reintroduction of the original strong active built edge to Lower Queen Street which, it is proposed, in front of the Chief Post Office (CPO) building be transformed as a pedestrianised civic space.

The ‘below ground’ CRL works and ‘above ground’ redevelopment are capable of being realised in stages however delivering them as a comprehensive package is likely to lead to a higher quality and more cost effective outcome. This opportunity is time limited resulting in the need to now determine whether the physical extent of a comprehensive above ground redevelopment includes QE Square.

The report seeks approval in principle to the inclusion of QE Square in wider redevelopment of the DSC block subject to outcome of associated statutory public processes. It also proposes that the proceeds from disposal of QE Square be reinvested in the provision of new and/or enhanced public civic space in the area, over and above that proposed by PPNZL to be delivered within the DSC block. This offsite space could, for example, include the creation of waterfront public space at the foot of Lower Albert Street or at the Admiralty Steps west of Queens Wharf.

So from this it suggests the plan would be to

  • Move the bus interchange to Lower Albert St with an East-West pedestrian connection
  • Turn Queen St between Customs and Quay St into a pedestrian only space effectively making a much larger public square
  • Reinstate little Queen St as a North-South laneway (although I imagine that won’t go through the HSBC building)
  • Use the proceeds of the sale would go towards the creation of a new public space in the area.

I really like the sound of this and I think it would fix a lot of problems I have with the area right now. Having buses right outside Britomart is handy but I also find it a pain when trying to get to/from the station, especially when buses are pulling out of Galway St. Moving the bus interchange to Lower Albert St might not appeal to some however having made the trek between there and Britomart daily it’s super simple and would be even more so with buses gone from Lower Queen St. In addition it would also simplify the Queen St and Quay St intersection meaning faster pedestrian phases. In addition to this I believe we are likely to see vastly improved bus provision along Customs St leading towards a full busway on Fanshawe St. Between that and Albert St changes mentioned I think it would improve buses in the city while also improving the area for pedestrians.

In my opinion turning lower Queen St back into a pedestrian only space would result in a much nicer space than that the existing square provides. Having it lined with retail as well as feeding into new pedestrian laneways would be a much better outcome than what we have now. This also sounds like it would see vehicles removed from Tyler St and Galway St allowing us to make much better use of those.  In addition it need to be remembered that Quay St will be vastly improved for people and we have the massive Queens Wharf crying out for use as a more prominent people place.

When it comes to trade-offs, it seems so far that on balance this would deliver a much better result than what we have now.

QE2 Square above
The HSBC building casts a shadow over the space all afternoon

The council agreed to continuing to look at the proposal, here’s the resolution that was passed.

That the Auckland Development Committee:

a) approve in principle the disposal of land on which Queen Elizabeth Square stands as part of the wider redevelopment of the Downtown Shopping Centre block subject to the outcome of associated statutory public processes (road stopping and rezoning of the land).

b) agree to the sale only if the proceeds from the potential disposal of Queen Elizabeth Square are reinvested in new or enhanced public civic space/s that :

i. is of at least the same quantum and higher quality to the existing space
ii. is located either within or in reasonable proximity to the Downtown Shopping Centre block
iii. is capable of being delivered broadly at the same time as the permanent loss of the existing space.

c) direct staff to work with the Waitemata Local Board and Iwi on evaluating ‘offsite’ public civic space options with the findings to be considered by the Parks, Recreation and Sports Committee prior to being presented back to the Auckland Development Committee for approval in August.

d) agree to the sale of Queen Elizabeth Square being considered as part of the preparation of a Development Agreement between Auckland Transport, Auckland Council Property Limited and Precinct Properties New Zealand Limited on the basis that:

i. its final inclusion remains subject to statutory public processes (road stopping and rezoning of the land).
ii. the Development Agreement include conditions relating to the built form outcomes sought by council.

e) agree that any disposal of Queen Elizabeth Square is done so in the context of the overall masterplan and its vision for the city centre and achieving world class outcomes befitting this unique space in the context of Auckland.

Here’s who voted for and against the proposal.

Cr AJ Anae
Cr CE Brewer
Mayor LCM Brown
Cr WB Cashmore
Cr RI Clow
Cr LA Cooper
Cr CE Fletcher
Chairperson PA Hulse
Cr DA Krum
Cr CM Penrose
Cr D Quax
Cr SL Stewart
Cr JG Walker
Cr MP Webster

Deputy Chairperson C Darby
Cr ME Lee
Member Ngamane
Member Smith
Cr WD Walker
Cr J Watson
Cr GS Wood

This is a a plan as part of a student project for the site but is an example of the kind of thinking that is likely to be going on.

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      1. Ah, its back now. The server must have been down for maintenance perhaps. I got error messages on the first three access attempts.

  1. What’s the hurry? An ‘in principle sale and THEN a set of proposals’ is an absolutely disastrous way to make decisions. It seems that we are being rushed into a decision that we will never be able to undo.

    I’m with Councillor Lee on this one.

    1. The hurry is that PPNZL are currently working out what they’ll build there, the CRL is making progress, there needs to be clarification as to whether this square remains a rather grotty dark windswept place or simply incorporated. There is in fact a need to rush. Waiting a few years will mean PPNZL will simply proceed with their plans. This is about making this transaction a possibility, the council can always back out if what’s proposed doesn’t meet what they had envisioned.

    2. What’s the hurry?

      Precinct want to develop their site and want to build the parts of the CRL tunnel under it at the same time (saving the council huge sums of money). They want to start next year. The whole area is going to be dug up for that development so there’s an opportunity to put it back better than it is now and so both the council and Precinct see the opportunity to make changes to the area at the same time. As I said in the post, I think this is a decent trade off.

      Also worth noting, the Precinct development is one that will be critical in delivering much needed office space if we are ever to have a chance of meeting the governments stupid employment target

      1. Yes, so?

        They can develop some plans, and then present those to council.

        What we’ve done here is go “sell it” with no idea what will happen afterwards.

        1. They clearly have already done a lot of work on this behind the scenes and have some plans hence why they’re even talking to the council now and why we know about the plans to pedestrianise that part of Queen St, move buses to Albert St etc. Before they develop detailed plans to submit to the council it’s useful to know if the council are actually open to the idea.

  2. I think this is a good move, I do think the possibility of reinstating trams through Queens Street in front of the CPO should be considered longer term i.e. connecting the Wynyard Tram into here would be an ideal initial step. Simplifying Customs Street’s intersection with Queen Street (and in fact why not take the opportunity to close Queen Street below Shortland Street at the same time) would also be advantageous. I do like the prospect of better bus infrastructure on Albert and Customs Street sorely needed. I wish some more details on what is planned for Quay Street would be revealed, and I hope AC/AT are going to be visionary not simply shifting the deck chairs around.

    1. Have seen early plans for Quay St and they have been done as part of a wider review of the east-west streets in the CBD with the intention being that need to properly deal with them.

      Unless the plans have changed Quay St will have four severely detuned lanes. Two each way separated by a planted median and frequent raised pedestrian crossings. There will still be some vehicle access but the idea is to make it an unattractive option to drive along. In addition there would be a dedicated and protected cycleway separate from widened footpaths. Customs St will then be designed as the primary east-west route at the northern end of the CBD along with carrying the bus priority. The intention is that the Quay St could be designed to be closed on a regular basis for events but that the CBD (and buses) can still work effectively.

      1. Hi Matt

        When did you see those plans? Just checking – were they the draft CEWT plans, or something done since?

  3. I’m more with Darby; there is a need for a comprehensive master plan for the whole downtown. Certainly agree that the current QEII square is a massive fail from the same era that gave us Aotea Sq. Big but formless wastelands, without activity, mystery, or authenticity.

    The buses are biggest conundrum. We need them, we need them to work more efficiently, but we also need to reduce their negative impacts on the street environment. As there will surely always be some kind of Transit vehicle serving Queen St then I think the aim of completely removing then from in front of Britomart is probably unwise.

    Exciting though, public agencies and private owners working together is what is required. Let’s hope the process is a good one.

      1. And it seems to me that the benefits of building a light metro line from Aotea to Albany have to take into account the lowered number of buses into the city it would enable.

          1. Sorry. More detail. I thought the NEX was going to head up there and then, presumably, across to the Hospital. I may have been making things up in my head

        1. As far as I know the NEX is still intended to go to Britomart to connect with the other rapid transit and ferries. That’s whats in the RPTP anyway.

          1. What i don’t get is that if buses [I assume from the Isthmus, ie north-south routes] have stops on Lower Albert where do they go to /come from next? Won’t their routes then need to include some part of Quay St and probably into Lower Queen St as so many do now in order to turn for the return journey [or begin some other direction]? I can’t see how Lower Albert can replace Lower Queen for buses; if there’s stops on Lower Albert, there’ll be stops on Lower Queen, or at the very least buses through Lower Queen [so they may as well stop there too].

            And as one of the aims of the CEWT study is to enable the closure of Quay for events without disturbing bus routes, doesn’t that really suggest there can’t be any routes on Quay and therefore Lower Albert and Lower Queen? Doesn’t this really suggest that all Albert and Queen St buses have to turn one way or the other into Customs? What are the volumes on these routes, is that possible?

    1. I agree – we need a comprehensive master plan and it has to start with public transport. Figure out what is needed for PT, then build up the access ways, then put shop fronts along access ways, figure out what should be covered/uncovered, the figure out where the tower will be.

      Plan for the long term.

    2. I agree we need a Comprehensive plan. Without private owners, nothing will happen. Council officers will have endless meetings and nothing concrete will be proposed. Precinct brings the old discipline “time is money” to the table. This does not meant the Council should agree to whatever they propose, but does mean a plan needs to be produced quickly so there is time for debate and changes. If the plan leaves nothing for Precinct, they will walk away and CRL just becomes that much harder (expensive).

  4. Please, no covered street / lane. Ghastly places. The piece in Britomart under Westpac is vacant. Out front is busy.

    1. You think the westpac alley is vacant,,,? There’s a few things that could be much better – the wind tunnel effect alone is its biggest issue, then it’s also too dark – and it’s finished in a very corporate way that means it’s not going to attract the hip and grungy side of urban life, but vacant is not really its problem. It’s always got plenty of people passing through when I go through, twice a day – although I don’t see many people dwelling long, for the reasons above maybe. That said, some shops there have much higher trading levels than the High Street location they used to occupy – several contrasting aspects to the two locations come to mind – but ultimately they’re on top of the city’s main PT interchange and sat under a pile of bankers. Go figure, retail location is not rocket science. Footfall is everything, not parking of course.

      I don’t see a problem with covered streets as a minority element in a downtown. Better than the truly awful internalised, plasticky mall that is the current downtown. I can think of a few good examples around the world, it’s really down to the design concept and detail execution, and not air conditioning the space.

      1. Agree Tim, it seems to me that it’s both too wide and too straight, and yes too corporate. I guess the grand sort ‘via Apia’ nature of it could work if there was any kind of destination at the east end- just smack into vileness that is the Scene 3 buildings at ground level; caged parking! God that needs fixing.

        Really would look for a much more fine grained and ‘irrational’ lane way network in the new Downtown development; Melbourne laneway style. Narrower, more mystery; deadends + doglegs, mixture of materials, no glossy granite or backlit Mall advertising, uneven lighting, a bit of gloom, quick to get crowded, small retail tenancies, nowhere to drive a truck.

        1. I think the issue is it is too wide and nothing occupies that space. There maybe a few tables but is really is just a high footfall through lane, not a place to stop and linger (and if you do linger you will be in one of the shops, not in the lane.

          Compare to melbourne so narrow lanes with on lane tables. Fill up those tables and the place has a buzz

        2. Yes, convoluted and complex would be better for the proposed stuff. In defense of the pseudo roman highway I suggest it’s a case of Jarrett Walker’s geometric observations at work: convoluted is interesting for tourists and after work socialites, but no good when you’re hurrying for a train. That said, no forgiving scene one; unfortunately the streetscape of britomart place shows us the council still has not learnt how to spot a lemon yet…

  5. I seriously doubt that the Britomart bus stops and activities can be accomodated into Lower Albert St as it would also involve shifting the Tyler and Galway stops, bringing them all into a smaller space than currently occupied

    considering the headaches involved in detailing the current layout, it would be foolhardy to proceed with a “top of the head” scheme only to fing out down the track that it simply doesn’t work

    yes to a comprehensive downtown plan that takes into account the needs of pedestrians, buses and bus stops and circulation, retail and office space, servicing and a recognition that there are cars moving in and around the area

  6. Yes Patrick Reynolds, it is exciting but definitely a master plan is essential. Funny how Auckland can sit on its hands for years but also can jump to someone elses whip.
    So far I see no mention of the wind turbulence that plagues the area. Unless the tower blocks are dropped it will always be a problem. My view is that the entire area would be better under cover including a covered drive thru Lower Albert St. A reintroduced Little Queen St would be a miserable little laneway squashed in between tower blocks. Better forget it.
    Has anyone considered a below ground bus terminal under Downtown and QE2 Square and Quay St and it might encourage the HSBC Tower to introduce some retail space and have it look less forbidding. The Britomart Station extraction fans will soon be no longer required when it goes all electric and could be relocated.

    1. The original proposal for Britomart included an underground bus terminal, but the then bus operators wanted no part of it.

      As for the extraction fans – wouldn’t they still be required for the Northern Express?

      1. The original Britomart plans called for around 7 levels of underground carparking, the bus station and train station were basically just tacked onto a giant carpark to service the office towers that were planned up above. That plan was canned and rightly so. Plenty of space on the street for a proper bus interchange, no need to banish it underground. The council simply needs to reallocate space from the single occupant private cars that currently dominate this part of the city.

        1. Yes, both the train and bus stations were crammed into one half of one level of the basement (the other half was parking, of course). That was a plan to bulldoze everything, including all the historic buildings that make Britomart so popular, dig a huge carpark in the ground and build office towers on top. Shitty plan, the one they build was way better.

          There is plenty of room at Britomart for buses at street level, just needs a bit of thought.

  7. I would support this if they swapped for an extended Tyler lane, and that was an actual real oudoor lane and a legal roadway (not some foyer of a office block like so many so called public spaces).

    Not sure on shifting buses to Albert St, why would you want to move them further from where people are going, further from the trains, further from the ferries?

    1. I guess Precinct are keen on getting everyone transferring between trains, ferries, and buses to pass through their retail site. It’s not clear that this is in the public’s interest, furthermore Albert St is seriously shaded by the PWC building and the deeply vile Quay Tower lined up on the west side, which makes standing around there very unpleasant in the afternoons, considerably more unpleasant than over on Queen.

  8. The fact that Brewer and Brown sided together on this is enough to make me draw a very deep breath and say “hang on a minute, lets take a good hard look at the big picture Masterplans for the entire area first”.

    Regardless of what Precinct want for the site they own, they have to accommodate the CRL underneath it now the NOR is approved (subject to appeals), so theres no need to bend over backwards tomorrow to accommodate their every whim – which is the sense we get from the councillors resolution.

    Yes we can get a good outcome with an integrated design with Precinct, but just because Precinct want to maximise their site doesn’t make it a good outcome for Auckland necessarily does it?

    It can, but there is no guarantee of that outcome. So while Brewer says “we’re trading up the family silver” with this swap,

    I’d like to see a lot of evidence presented to the public that will, in fact, be the case, and definitely, that where the trade-up outcome depends on private parties not controlled by council (like Precinct) delivering what they promise, we need proof that those contracts for swapsies reflect that fact with tough penalty clauses if and when the private parties do not deliver.

    e.g. Whose to say that Precinct won’t get the plans approved, then flog the whole site, plans and all off to some one else to build, and not build own and operate the site themselves as they say they will now. With all cosy “gentlemens agreements” between council and Precinct rendered null and void as far as the new owners are concerned. Wouldn’t be the first time, wouldn’t be the last.

    So wise up AC, and do your homework and look at the entire are plan for sake of all Aucklanders please.

    1. I agree in that we need to make sure we don’t end up with the situations like Princess Wharf, Oracle Tower etc etc where public access is promised and then quickly shut off as soon as the development is completed. Needs to be rigorous checks and balances, Brewer supporting this also makes me somewhat suspicious, it’s cynical but I can’t actually envisage anything he agrees with being positive for Auckland.

  9. Nick R, I think you are absolutely correct.

    And why would you want a tram up Queen St when there is CRL departing from the bottom.

    And does it make sense to have buses departing from midtown and Britomart to the Shore? Surely we would get better frequency with one departure point and the CRL delivers you from there?

    One coherent plan- yes please! And with it to start with public transport – again it makes sense.

    I believe that Auckland bumbles along working under the wrong initial premise, that is, we will build more roads so that people can get around. I am constantly fascinated every time I read of Vienna and their subway. Five lines and they are still building. And look at how relatively little it costs for a zone pass that carries you such a long way (certainly vis a vis Auckland city to Albany). But wait there’s more! No one buys a zone pass because you can buy an annual pass that costs almost what you would spend on toothpaste – I make that comparison because they both enhance your smile.

    Low fares will be disastrous if service is compromised, but if they are at such a level that individuals have to search for a compelling reason not to use public transport then our roads will become less congested and judging by many cities experiences the economics more than stack up.

    1. ‘And why would you want a tram up Queen St when there is CRL departing from the bottom.’

      Trams or buses on Queen do not duplicate the CRL. The CRL connects places as far away as Pukekohe and Swanson to and through the city centre. Trams or buses using Queen St are for more local movements, will always be slower than trains on their own ROW, but do deliver people directly to destinations in a more fine grained way. Furthermore they are likely to connect other parts not served by the rail system, like Wynyard Quarter and Dominion Rd.

      Even though trams and trains both use steel tracks they are less like each other in function than trams and buses. And the trains in the CRL are complimentary with surface systems, whether they are bus or tram. In other words the CRL will not remove the need for surface transport in the city. It will mean we wont have to try to accommodate hundreds of additional buses, and especially expensive to run long distance ones, but it won’r remove the need for these routes.

      1. Yep the Queen St buses are a walking accelerator, part of the street, used to go a couple of blocks as much as britomart to K Rd.

        Trams, they are a flash replacement for buses for the city’s premiere st, not an alternative to rail from new Lynn to Aotea.

    2. Also interesting is the funding for the Subway system in Vienna. Each company has to pay for each employee for each week, 2 Euro. That money (also called the “UBahn”-tax) is used for building and maintaining. And they start in October with the 6th line. Finally the old planned but so far not built U5 starts.

      1. In Japan, companies pay for their employees’ commute costs (up to a certain limit, but you have to coming from miiiiles away to go over it). They usually only pay for PT costs, not car costs. Due to them being legally liable for your safety from when you leave home I believe.

        Provides an implicit subsidy to PT and a commute pass employees can use on weekends, great win-win.

        1. Getting off topic but:

          I hope that when monthly passes become available on HOP card, there is an easy mechanism for Employers to pay for or part subsidise the pass.

          My work provides subsidised parking for those that have been their long enough to get to the top if the list (other than top 5 or so, it does not relate to seniority, just length if time on the list). No reason they should subsidise public transport.

  10. Please show me a plan with all the transport in the one Hub, delete the ½ mile between them and really make sure that it is all working before shutting down the buses around Britomart. (NS buses need to be in there too with bus lanes in and out in all directions).

    1. putting the North Shore buses (if there was room) at Britomart would be a hugely backwards step, when they all were at Victoria St a Gravitas survey of boarding passengers by PM bus stop showed that few Shore passengers walked to locations south of Wellesley St (the universities are more of a captive market)

      it would be interesting to repeat this survey with NEX users, but I doubt many would go to locations beyond Victoria St, it is surprising how many people consider QE Sq to Aotea Sq a long walk, but then not everyone is young and fit

      1. Stockholm is also really really cold; all over the world all evidence points to only one thing preventing urban cycling across all conditions; and that’s the absence of on-street and off-road separate cycle ways. Hilly, chilly, or whatever culture; doesn’t matter, build the infrastructure and they will ride. Auckland is a billiard table compared to San Francisco, and cycling is way bigger there, why? Because there are safe routes for people to use.

      2. Stockholm is absolutely not flat, it’s hilly as hell outside of the old downtown. In fact it is famous for it’s multiple funiculars and incline elevators used to overcome the terrain around metro stations.

          1. Aside from the hill up to Grey Lynn, the rest of Great Nth Rd is pretty well dead flat is tire length as well. Anyway, that’s splitting hairs, the point is that it’s very easy to get to pretty well anywhere in Auckland via a flat road on a ridge, it’s the lack of any cycle lanes that has put people off. It gets exhausting hearing from people who themselves obviously don’t want to cycle and therefore refuse to accept anyone else would.

  11. You casually mention Tyler Street and Queen St becoming pedestrianised butperhaps you dont realise that there are several residential buildings with carparking that rely on Tyler Street for access. How would you propose their access be preserved?

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