new recycled policy just dropped in the Auckland Mayoral race: reopening the Albert Park Tunnels.
Auckland mayoral candidate Viv Beck is promising to resurrect plans for 3.5km of abandoned World War II air raid shelters under Albert Park, starting with clearing the main tunnel for pedestrians and cyclists.
Transport, heritage and tourism will converge and become an iconic landmark and attraction for Auckland, said Beck, who is chief executive of Heart of the City.
She plans to build on the work of Bill Reid, the retired butcher from Henderson Heights who has been trying to reopen the labyrinth of tunnels since 1988.
The 22-tunnel complex was started early in 1942, soon after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour, when 114 council workers began hacking through the hard papa, scoria and basalt under the park.
The resulting shelters had toilets and first-aid units, and could accommodate 22,000 people. In 1946, the plumbing and wiring were ripped out and the whole lot filled in with millions of unfired bricks.
Beck has proposed the council convert the 600m main tunnel into a walking and cycling connection between the central city and Parnell, with lift and stair access to Auckland University.
This is along the lines of a 2018 presentation to Auckland Council by a group that included Bill Reid. The plan to open the main tunnel was costed at $15 million to $25m. Beck has updated the cost of $25m to $35 to reflect inflation, saying it would be funded by the council and central government.
Beck said heritage and stakeholder considerations will need to be worked through, but the work on the main tunnel itself would likely take between 12 and 24 months.
The walking and cycling tunnel, which could get up to 3500 trips a day, will be a significant link in the transport network, she said.
“Not only will it provide a much more direct route for active transport between the central city and Parnell, and through to the eastern suburbs, it will provide a seamless link between the Aotea City Rail Link station and Auckland University.
“Here’s a chance to bring Auckland’s history to life, and create a world-class urban space.”
A related story on Stuff features some urban-exploration video from inside the tunnels, and notes that they “were closed as a safety measure in 1946 when some timber supports started to show signs of deterioration. By the end of the war, they were filled in with 8.8 million unfired clay bricks.”
We’ve long been fans of the idea of reopening the tunnels. The “Underline”, the most recent proposal – and what this policy appears to be based on – came out around 5 years ago, and was presented to Council.
One of the great things about the project is it improves access to and across the central city by (effectively) removing a hill. Combined with lifts for access to the University, this would transform active travel options between Parnell and the heart of the city.
The main tunnel is about 660m long, 4.4m wide and around 3m tall, although the plan is to make it slightly wider and deeper.
The tunnel reopening was also one of the key additions to the City Centre Masterplan when it was updated in 2020. The council even included an image of what a modified entrance to the tunnels could look like.
Note that another major addition to the Masterplan was the Grafton Gully multi-way Boulevard, which ties in nicely to improve safety and transport and redevelop and revitalise the area, further enhancing the value of the tunnel project.
It’s cool to see this project back in public discussion. As I wrote back in 2017:
It would link in perfectly with existing and planned walking, cycling and PT networks. For example, it would create a new cross-town cycle link, connecting the Grafton Gully cycleway into the Victoria St Linear Park, which is also happens to be connected through Queen St where Light Rail will one day run and to the future Aotea Station. The lifts at Symonds St would also hook into the Symonds St buses.
But if I have one concern, it’s that when there’s a comprehensive and up-to-date vision for an area (say, a City Centre Masterplan), what we really need is for candidates to commit to that vision, rather than cherry-picking tidbits for their campaigns.
Even so: what other brilliant but ignored visions, plans and policy positions are out there for the taking?