The council and Precinct Properties have announced that they’ve come to an agreement for the sale of Queen Elizabeth Square and the costs for the City Rail Link to go through the site.

An agreement between Auckland Council and Precinct Properties announced this morning will enable the construction of the City Rail Link (CRL) to get underway through the company’s Downtown Development project at the bottom of Queen Street.

Mayor Len Brown is heralding the milestone as an historic moment for Auckland: “This is the first step towards the construction of the CRL. It will lead to an exciting transformation of the public spaces around the Britomart train station area. And it’s an example of how a partnership with the private sector can deliver economic transformation and more jobs in Auckland.”

The alignment of the CRL requires new rail tunnels to be constructed through the site presently occupied by the Downtown Shopping Centre, which is owned by Precinct Properties along with two adjacent commercial office towers, HSBC Tower at 1 Queen Street and Zurich House at 21 Queen Street.

The deal between the two parties enables the rail tunnels to be built as part of the Downtown Development Project.

Elements include:

  • The sale to Precinct of Queen Elizabeth Square for $27.2 million
  • Payment to Precinct of $9 million for provision of an East-West pedestrian laneway between Queen Street and Albert Street and compensation for tunnels volume
  • Payment of $10.7 million for additional costs of office tower construction due to CRL tunnels
  • Creation of a new downtown civic space between the project and Britomart

The sale of Queen Elizabeth Square was approved by Auckland Council’s Development Committee on 11 September 2014 after a report to council by staff pointed out the proceeds of this underutilised and poorly performing city space would enable the creation of new public spaces that better meet the needs of the area.

Len Brown says: “The agreement demonstrates the council’s positive business-friendly approach to city centre development while securing a great result for the ratepayer as it means cost savings for both parties.

“It ensures a coordinated approach to the construction work – with Auckland Transport building the CRL tunnels either side of the Precinct downtown shopping centre site from Britomart to Wyndham Street and Precinct Properties building the tunnels below its site.

“The Downtown Development Project will help create jobs giving the potential for 12,000 more people to be working close to public transport at Britomart.

“It is also the key to a number of projects that will kick-off the creation of a world-class downtown area including improvements to public space, transport facilities and urban design.”

Those improvements include:

  • The replacement of an aging 40 year old shopping centre with the Downtown Development Project enhancing retail in the area with a three-level retail laneway development while the commercial office tower will deliver much-needed office space
  • The creation of a pedestrian laneway, which re-instates a north-south link from Customs Street to Quay Street once existing as Little Queen Street. This link was lost during the large-scale demolition in the area in the 1970s
  • Moving towards the establishment of a Lower Albert Street bus interchange which would enable a pedestrianised civic space to be created in front of Britomart presently existing as a road occupied by buses
  • The protection of key views to important adjacent heritage buildings including the ferry building, Customhouse and the Dilworth building

The Mayor says: “Aucklanders have made it clear the CRL is their number one transport priority and this brings us closer to enabling a start to construction in about a year’s time.”

Construction of the Downtown section of the CRL is due to begin mid-year with completion by 2019. Tenders are due to go out later this year.

It’s great that we’re seeing some progress on the CRL and $19.7 million for it through this section is probably quite cheap compared to what it would have been had Auckland Transport been forced to buy the site had Precinct not been willing to work out a deal. That we’ll also get North-South and East-West lanes is good (more on that soon).

The issue that might cause some people concern is bound to be the sale of QE Square. Months ago when the suggestion came up we were told it could be worth up to $60 million so the council selling it for $27 million is obviously quite a bit less than that. One thing worth pointing out though is that based on the surrounding land values which are up over 9,500 per m2 this doesn’t seem such a low price.

Also this morning Precinct Properties have released a few images of what the development on the downtown site will look like. The main feature will be a 36 storey office tower which will have quite an impact on the skyline.

Precinct Tower 1

Precinct Tower 2

They’ve also released this image of the East-West laneway which will be surrounded by three storeys of retail. The big concern I have with this is that it appears to be enclosed with a roof giving it more of a mall feel than an open air lane.

Downtown Lane

Overall it’s great to see progress being made and I’m definitely looking forward to the first stages of the CRL starting in the middle of the year.

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  1. Seems a lot like the EY Building atrium so that might not be a bad thing – particularly if there’s plans to use the upper levels for non-corporate stuff like cafes and bars.

  2. You said there’s a north-south lane too?

    Also, what about covered but open designs? I.e. a glass roof, but not aircondition-enclosed? Big louvered sections?

  3. I know all the urban design geeks / hipsters are in love with laneways, or lanes as the rest of the world calls them. But what’s wrong with enclosed or semi-enclosed? Do we really want a narrow lane between high buildings? Anyway, when it’s a bunch of retail units built by a developer and leased to businesses under a bunch of strict conditions, it’s a mall, whatever you call it.

  4. Looks like the Downtown car park building is here to stay to at least 2048:

    The ASX announcement says this:

    “Precinct’s rights over 200 car parks within the Downtown car park have been extended to 2095, terminable for redevelopment after 2048”

    So, presume this is in part compensating Precinct for fewer car parks in their building ‘cos it has a CRL running through some of its basement levels.
    Even so, means no redevelopment of the car park building for a while. Not sure how smart that is going to be long term.

    1. I don’t have much of a problem with the price of the square. A bit more problem with privatising it, but it won’t be the first privately-owned public open space in the world, maybe the 10 millionth.

      Don’t count on the building looking like this. If they get a signature tenant they will have a lot of say in the final design, and, things change. For instance, that sail on the top looks like it could go. Maybe make it solar panels and give it a purpose.

    2. There are 1,890 spaces in the downtown carpark, the lease over 200 of them is nothing. They can renegotiate that.

      FYI, 1.890 is the capacity of about three trains not quite full. That’s just four minutes of the CRL running at full noise.

  5. This looks generally good to me. I don’t mind it being enclosed, as long as there is natural light (which the render indicates). I hate malls but this looks pleasant enough. In th 11 months of rain a year I am sure I especially won’t mind.

    My biggest ponder is around what type of retail – is it going to be like the tiny ones opposite town hall – only good for bubble tea and pokey coffee shops or something substantial? The loss of the warehouse is going to be a big deal for city dwellers as it’s the only place to buy lightbulbs, kitchen towels, misc…

    1. My biggest ponder is around what type of retail – is it going to be like the tiny ones opposite town hall – only good for bubble tea and pokey coffee shops or something substantial
      I wouldn’t automatically assume there is no place for large floor plate retailers in this development

      You tend to have smaller shop frontages at ground level as developers can get higher rents for those stores directly facing the pedestrian flow,

      This thing is promising 3 levels, and if you are going to have larger format rdestination type retailers, they will tend to be at the higher/further ends of the complex as it forces customers to walk up and past all the other “tempting” windows, –

      Kinda like why in a supermarket you have to walk past the high margin Fruit, Vege and Meats to get to the bread and milk….

      1. Except that “walking up” is retail death, especially for thoroughfares. Unless it’s a destination store or a major anchor, being one level up means you have something like 20% of the footfall on the ground.

        Which is why malls have huge escalators. And even those don’t succeed in more than reducing the drop-off.

  6. I don’t have a problem with it being enclosed – especially since it will have natural light. People forget that Auckland is a very wet city and is also quite windy. It is good to have an all weather option so that people can get out of the rain – I do hope that it is a 24 hour lane-way not one locked at 5pm!
    I do have concerns about QE2 being sold too cheaply but overall the project seems to be pretty good!

    1. I agree, but look at it this way, since this easily saved council over $60m in CRL building costs, council can apportion a pile of cash “saved” from CRL costs that AT won’t be spending to buy some decent alternatives to the square.

      And yes, I think it should be open 24×7 not locked at 5pm like some urban shopping mall.

  7. I think it looks great. By far beats original concepts I have seen, the all glass and cross brace high rise is a timeless look.
    I’m not sure y it costs so much to build it around a couple little tunnels underneath though.

  8. Ah, good to see some decent building height being added to the skyline…. like the reference to the older Warren and Mahoney building on Quay St in the expressed exoskeletal structure [also references the excellent MIT building, also by WaM]. Especially as it is certain to not have the poor ground floor conditions of that older building. Looks like a very good addition to Auckland and further evidence that the Centre City is back from it’s near death last century. With a vengeance!

    Little concerned about about the enclosed ‘laneway’, too mall-like for my taste; will there be aircon, piped music, and ‘great deal’ announcements over the Tannoy too? I assume not, or we may as well all go to St Lukes instead…. Will seek further info.

    Great it’s officially happening, FANTASTIC that the CRL is essentially starting, maybe later this year, suspect it may not actually mean work till say after xmas, those are pretty tricky works to contracts.

    Mayor said that 27.2 mil will all go to new public space downtown, especially water proximate public space. Things are speeding up.

  9. Here we go again – nothing for the North Shore, what about the BRIDGE, BRIDGE, BRIDGE, and of course north of the bridge.
    I really think the ACC doesnt look further than the City line – ?? Mayor Len Brown, I hope that you never get voted in again –
    no help to us – but you like our rates monies.!!!!!!

    1. Faye. Your actually wrong. The CRL builds Aotea Station which is North Shores connection point for rail. Please read the AT CRL website. There is a big effort going in for Skypath, walking and cycling connection to the North Shore. And if you help us we will be trying to get MOT/ NZTA to do a full 180 and I would say top 3 is extending North Shore Busway to Silverdale ASAP!!

    2. You are correct. Auckland City never looks over the bridge, and never south of Sylvia Park. Too strange and culturally different. Their consultants would get lost. Just as well AT has offices at Henderson, else they may never look very far west either.

      1. South is had massive transport upgrades, opening of a new rail line at Manukau, and a whole lot of transport hubs. Redesigned bus network and CRL to speed up connections!! North Shore has had the Northern Busway, most likely to be extended, redesigned bus network and CRL so the north shore line can link in, skypath for cycling and pedestrian facilities. These comments havent really been thought through.

        1. I agree with Josh.

          I see a lot of confirmation bias involved in talking about investment. The question becomes how to best decide on where to invest and what is the blueprint or plan for this. Straight BCR has it’s drawbacks, in that it is possible that already dense areas will be the only ones to get investment in them, or the costs of the projects will crowd out other options.

          I think that a lot of the choices being made have an eye to the future, while trying to sort out the issues of today and with the recent decisions coming out of AT that have been highlighted on this bog, some attitudes are changing around the social impact of the decisions, which is great to see.

        2. The CRL is for South, East, and, especially, West, and North too. Just cos the disruption happens in the centre doesn’t mean that’s the place where all the benefits occur. It is a link, it speeds connection from all the places the rail network reaches, and clears the streets for other modes, especially drivers and bus users.

    3. The bridge? You mean the broadest bit of motorway in the whole of Auckland (Five lanes in peak directions)? Can’t see much reason for expanding that.

    4. What about the rates of the 80% of the population who live south of the bridge? If it was up to you it would all be spent on the Shore.

    5. Nothing for the North Shore? What is wrong with your $300m busway, or the $400m they just spent building you a tunnel through Victoria Park? What exactly is wrong with the bridge bridge bridge? Eight lanes with tidal flow not enough for you? It’s the widest motorway in Auckland!

      Yeesh, perhaps someone needs reminding that only 18% of Aucklanders live on the North Shore, the other 82% live south of the harbour. Maybe we can consider something for the other four fifths of Auckland for a change?

    6. Faye the Shore is the only part of Auckland that has had a new Rapid Transit line since the 1930s, the Northern Busway, it is 20% of the population and also has expensively subsidised ferry services. The CRL serves the entire city, including the Shore, especially by enabling buses to be removed from the city so there’s more room for services on the Busway, but also Shore people can and will use it. This is one city now. There is more improvement coming for Fanshawe St which is principally for people from and visiting the Shore. And the SkyPath is coming too!

      It’s a lovely part of town; why are people there so determined they’re missing out?

      1. The Auckland monthly transport stats report shows that ferries are by far and away the the less subsidised mode of public transport. A return train trip to Pukekohe costs AT $50 in subsidies alone.The CRL does not do much for the Eastern and Southern lines-albiet a small time savings and additional capacity etc. I’m pro CRL but the main commuting benefits are clearly for those travelling from the West. One of the major issues on the Shore is that buses take so long to get to the busway and that there is not enough carparks at the park and rides. As the stats show, alot of people are happy to commute from the Shore by bus. The issue is making sure that its easy too and taking multiple buses is not easy. Alot of people will roll their eyes and put it in the too hard basket at 7am.

        1. Alex – I agree with the many good points you make. It pains me every time I use the ferry that I get charged $4.20 for the short trip when I know that for the same length trip in the central Auckland I would be charged $2. The only difference between the two is that AT favours bus/train users and subsidises their fares. Most people (refer Patrick R’s comment) probably don’t realise that this is still going on, since there was a fare ‘review’ done late last year that was supposed to make HOP fares fairer.

          Where did you find the quoted $50 subsidy per return Pukekohe trip statistic? I read the monthly AT report and all I took from it was the impressive and pleasing increases in uptake of public transport across the board. Now you’ve got me worried about the long-term economics of our train system!

    7. Faye, if you stop voting for National, you would’ve had an extension of the northern busway. John Key has put that on the backburner. Also, the CRL would’ve been starting in earnest next year and thus bringing forward the possibility of a north shore rail line to possibly the next 15 years.

      1. Not that I know, but why assume someone has voted in a particular way unless they have stated? Also there is more to government politics than just transport. I voted National but support the greens transport policies, comes down to your own priorities. However as a swing voter, once our economy is on track I may look back towards voting purely on transport policy.

        Over the recent years North Shore has had a pretty good run with successful expensive transport spending. And it looks like they are set to get even more in the near future.

  10. A couple of thoughts/questions:

    – its only a lane (Laneway) if it is open 24/7, otherwise it is just a mall with a glass roof
    – doesn’t appear to be any flow though to the Albert street overbridge – is this being retained?
    – Will the Britomart station have an exit in the mall?
    – Great to see new A grade commercial going in above a major transport hub.
    – Disappointing downtown carpark development is blocked for another 20 years? Can they develop over the carpark (ie, add above while keeping the 200 park minimum) though this would be a sub optimal development.

    1. “– its only a lane (Laneway) if it is open 24/7, otherwise it is just a mall with a glass roof”
      Hearing that one lane is covered and the other is open

      “– doesn’t appear to be any flow though to the Albert street overbridge – is this being retained?”
      This isn’t clear but I for one hope they tear that overbridge down. Blocks off views of the harbour from Albert St. In saying that with the bus interchange going there something might be needed for access across it.

      “– Will the Britomart station have an exit in the mall?”
      No and the existing underpass is being removed as part of the CRL and won’t be reinstated.

      1. That is a real shame and quite short sighted not to have a tunnel from britomart into the new shopping centre and laneways. Would hardly cost anything to construct if done at the same time as the rail tunnels.

        1. From the article:
          “Moving towards the establishment of a Lower Albert Street bus interchange which would enable a pedestrianised civic space to be created in front of Britomart presently existing as a road occupied by buses”

          So we lose the tunnel under the street, which isn’t widely used, and then we lose the street as well. So you will be able to walk out of the main doors of Britomart and cross Lower Queen street into the east-west lane to the Albert Street bus interchange. No having to dodge buses outside Britomart, the only thing you lose is the cover crosing the street. I can live with that.

        2. That’s kinda moot Jonty, unless you have tunnels all the way everywhere you are going and never surface…

        3. Auckland is not Montreal or Phoenix; we get neither -40C nor +40C; big cold Canadian cities have whole underground parts to hide from the arctic blasts above, south western Americans use cars in order to move air conditioning between buildings ….Here, it does rain, not constantly, and not accompanied by unbearable temperatutes; buy an umbrella.

        4. The underpass is very useful whenever the street gets closed for an event, but beyond that it’s probably a bit overkill. Once the bus terminal is gone there’ll be no real need for it at all.

        5. What if you are parked in one of the 300 underground carparks in the new tower and want to go to/from Britomart? You need to go up to the surface, along and then down again. Why not just have a pedestrian walkway parallel to the tracks like what is there now? What is the harm in doing this? Let’s give people the choice!

        6. Err build a tunnel for 300 drivers who will not be going to Britomart…? As opposed to the 10,000 an hour of walk-ups? Those drivers will all be going up the towers. Park ‘n’ ride at Britomart? Fully cray.

  11. Who is the architect of the building?
    Re glass roof to lane – they look great in renders, but in real life we can expect it to need cleaning every day, as rain drops and pollution leave them looking like crap… And while I’d personally be worried by the vast amount of north facing glass, and ensuing overheating, it does look quite nice.

    1. What will the aerodynamics be of that curved glass surface? Will it scatter shards of glass over the downtown area in a high wind?

      If the building was 10 stories shorter it might be a useful addition to an attractive skyline. AS it is it looks like a sheet of paper that was raised too high and got blown over. Not a good image for an important building.

      Only good thing about this announcement is the start on the CRL

  12. So we’re getting a mall, which we already had, and we’re losing our large downtown square. Meh!

    I think we have a world class city skyline. I’m in two minds as to whether this fits.

    1. Large, disused wind tunnel and outdated mall, more like… There hasn’t even been a proper square there since Britomart opened.

  13. Okay, only part of the square is going. Hopefully that will still work. Hope they get the retail bit built quick. There’s a lot of businesses in the existing mall.

    1. I think it will work nicely. The bit that is going is the weird bit that’s sandwiched between two skyscrapers (soon to be three). I’d rather have the bit where the road is currently and have a rectangular area with a more traditional active edge along the western side.

    2. Fair question – getting the ‘mall’ part rebuilt asap seems essential – I don’t see why it needs to wait until the tower is complete before opening.

      Are there renders at other angles/floorplans or timelines of sections? early days I guess!

  14. I think the majority of the side facing north will act as heating in winter and the smaller east west sides Will get most the morning evening summer sun.
    And I don’t think our sky line is not world class, I think it looks tacky with all the exposed floor plates and bright blue orange etc tint windows.
    So more clean buildings will to tidy it up.

    Also I live on the shore and I agree little comes this side of the bridge. But I except the CRL is needed before anything else. I just hope when they do spend money on the shore. Like the bus way to Albany that they are not short sighted and do on the cheap. I want to see heavy rail grade route to silverdale for the bus way.

    1. Fair enough John. The busway should be fully future proofed for rail the whole way, totally agree. I think some parts of the original busway need modifications from what I gather.

  15. Great to think that the CRL may well be started well in advance of the National government’s spiteful 2020 delaying tactics. Hopefully their unnecessary roading projects will suffer the reverse effect. Delay (or cancellation!) in practice, in spite of govt trying to fast-track them.

  16. This is an exciting part of the announcement that hasn’t got much attention- the bullet point about buses moving to lower Albert St and the place outside Brit becoming a pedestrianised space. I saw the experiment over anniversary weekend when they put out deck chairs and put in artificial turf & people flocked to it. So once buses can be moved we will step out of the station and walk in a pedestrianised space to the new retail space which hopefully will start the pedestrianisation of the rest of Queen St.
    Also the project will have to go to resource consent which means those excellent urban design people get to see and comment on it so we should treat it all as a first design. The shared spaces guy at the council whose name I forget will be all over that laneway concept so again we should welcome it and leave him to do his magic -and I heard on the news there are 2 laneways?

    1. I would suspect that this slab-sided building will cause such bad shading and such major wind-funneling that no-one will want to be a pedestrian outside Britomart anytime a reasonable wind is blowing.

      1. Lloyd the tower is on the south western-side of the site, it will shade the old Customs House Building in the middle of the day but the street in front of Britomart only late in the day, like when the current Zurich House does.

      2. It’s clearly not a ‘slab’ building and the DP has rules controlling wind so the proposal has/will likely be subject to wind tunnel tests. The podium base is also likely to much of the brunt of any changes to wind flow.

  17. I think the building looks fantastic. My main concern with the “lane” is that theyll prevent access late at night, similar to what princes wharf did around edge.

  18. Looks great to me. I always prefer cover from the rain which we do get a lot of. Seems like people keep forgetting how much rain we actually get. Auckland is wetter than any major town in England or Europe for that matter. We would be in the top ten wettest towns in the US. We get about the same as New York which is interesting. Some people say get an umbrella, which is fine when you are the only person around, but 100’s of people with umbrellas running everywhere poking each others eyes out is just stupid and impractical in Auckland CBD. And how do I waste time on my phone when I have to hold an umbrella?!? We used to have a nice covered walkway by Bledisloe house, now we have some stupidly expensive walkway with a pitiful cover that forces us to run or poke people with umbrellas. It’s like the people that design these things live in some fantasy land.

    1. Well said Ari. Also umbrella’s aren’t the best on PT – they get wet and make the floors of buses/trains slippery and that moisture steams up. Better to stay dry in the first place.

  19. NBR site has an article (behind the paywall) from Precinct quoting them saying… the mall concept is a “network of laneways
    It won’t be an enclosed shopping mall. If you go into any mall in New Zealand they are inward facing, enclosed and bloody concrete on the outside.

    “There will be a number of laneways and you will feel like you are outside but you will always be weather protected.”

    It adds: As part of the deal, Precinct will allow one of the laneways to be open 24 hours a day.

  20. I wonder if the council should have asked for the lane to be a proper council-owned lane rather than Precinct’s private property, partly as compensation for losing QE square and also so it is allowed to remain accessible 24/7 like any other laneway. (Providing it’s safe at night, of course).

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