Despite over 80% of submissions in support of closing the pointless lane through Freyberg Square, the council have caved to the wishes a few complaining retailers who consistently seem determined to hold the city back – often so they can park outside their shops. They’ve announced that the lane will now be retained while the council spends many more years coming up with a plan for the entire High Street area.
The Auckland City Centre Advisory Board (ACCAB) has endorsed a staged approach to improvements for Freyberg Square, with vehicle access through the square retained in the interim to provide more flexibility for future improvements in the wider area.
Upgrades to Freyberg Square and the Ellen Melville Centre in Auckland’s city centre received strong public support when consulted on in September, however some key issues were raised, particularly from local businesses.
The temporary retention of vehicle access – connecting High Street with Chancery Street – is the most significant change from proposals, and follows discussions with Heart of the City and business owners in the area. Other changes include the retention of four large phoenix palms, cycle parking, additional seating and moving some of the trees.
The vehicle access would provide flexibility for potential future improvements in High Street and the wider area, while a precinct plan is developed with the community and businesses. That plan will set out the direction for the area and inform future investment decisions. There are currently no set proposals for what a High Street upgrade could consist of – however $15m has been committed from the City Centre Targeted Rate.
ACCAB Chair Kate Healy said “Having a staged approach to Freyberg Square means we get most of the improvements now, while helping to keep options open for the area’s future development – as well as options for how we might minimise potential disruption. We will also work towards the vision for Freyberg Square, which had strong public support in the consultation.
“Many businesses in this area are excited about what the future will hold, but want to see a holistic approach taken for the district’s development. This underlines the commitment of the ACCAB and Auckland Council to listen to stakeholders and work together with communities to transform our city centre.”
It is expected that access through the square would be generally open but able to be closed for events. This would evolve over three to five years to become generally closed to vehicles, but able to be opened when needed.
The ACCAB advises on city centre projects and spending of the City Centre Targeted Rate. The rate raises about $21m annually – of which 96% comes from city centre businesses and the rest from residents. It will fund the improvements to Freyberg Square and is also set to fund improvements to High Street.
The full feedback report of the consultation on the square and the community centre is available online at here.
I agree that there needs to be a plan for High St but at the same it seems like the decision completely undermines the council’s consultation processes. It raises the question of why even bother going to the effort of submitting and engaging with the council if they then ignore the vast majority of responses which in this case actually supported them.
I guess the only positive is there now seems more impetuous to actually do something about High St and that hopefully means an upgrade of the street from its currently pedestrian unfriendly design. The counter to that is the retailers who have managed to hold up improvements to Freyberg Square are just as likely to keep doing the same thing with any plans for High St as they will be emboldened by this decision meaning the council will likely delay improvements even further.
Perhaps instead of spending time on a plan that will likely be delayed further the council should instead just pull all money from the area and instead spend it on areas that may support improvement. For example I’m thinking of more shared spaces on other parts of Federal St. In the mean time High St, Aucklands former high street, will no doubt continue its slide into relative obscurity and businesses and customers flock to those streets that haven’t fought against the spirit of the times