Some good news last week with the Council confirming that Te Hā Noa – Victoria St Linear Park will go ahead and with construction starting on 11 April – though with a few fishhooks.
Te Hā Noa, a renewed Victoria Street, is the next big project in Auckland Council’s Midtown Regeneration programme.
Since it first made the pages of the City Centre Masterplan (CCMP) in 2012, Te Hā Noa has been described in different ways: linear park, tree-lined avenue and ‘the new backyard’.
Last week, the green light was given by the council’s Governing Body for construction of the eastern section of Te Hā Noa – from Elliott Street to Kitchener Street – to begin.
Head of City Centre Programmes for Auckland Council, Jenny Larking, says it will be an historic day when the construction process begins on 11 April.
Te Hā Noa is a flagship for contemporary urban design, putting people at its heart. It is a pivotal feature in the CCMP – re-endorsed in 2020 – the blueprint for the city centre’s ongoing renewal.
The name Te Hā Noa was gifted by mana whenua, evoking a sense of freedom and imagining a place where people can take a breath and absorb the sights and sounds around them.
This midtown section of Te Hā Noa will become a high quality accessible public space to support the increasing number of people arriving at Victoria Street from Te Waihorotiu Station, through the northern portal, when the station opens.
“The design of Te Hā Noa supports the way we know people want to live, work and spend leisure time. They want fast and seamless access to everything – jobs, entertainment, restaurants, theatres, parks and universities,” says Jenny Larking.
Having construction start is exciting as the Linear Park is something we had to fight hard to retain. The opportunity to build the Linear Park was almost lost a few years ago after Auckland Transport ignored the CCMP as well as their strategic plans and business cases by proposing to use Victoria St to funnel buses through the city, an option that had a negative benefit cost ratio. Thankfully following public feedback they eventually gave up on the idea.
Last week the council agreed to two changes to the project.
- They’re looking to save $10 million by dropping the section from Hobson St to Federal St. This is really disappointing as one of the key benefits of the linear park is that it will help to distribute passengers exiting the new Te Waihorotiu station, and many of those are likely to be headed to locations west of Federal St. This decision clearly also has implications for the design on the Federal to Albert St section.
- They’re changing the funding mix to so that more from the City Centre Targeted Rate (CCTR). Council officers say this doesn’t have much immediate impact as there are some reserves in the fund, but clearly it will mean some future projects will miss out. Interestingly, the City Centre Residents Group have themselves suggested residential properties pay a higher annual CCTR ($67 to $210), which could potentially raise about $6 million annually and therefore cover the cost of the extra section over just a few years.
The project is being split into three general blocks and each side of the road will be worked on separately to minimise impact. Looking at each block:
Federal to Elliott St
This section is being delivered by City rail Link and the hope is to have the design sufficiently completed by December to allow the re-opening of Albert/Victoria St intersection in December this year. That is important to get buses back on Albert St and to allow the CRL streetscape works to commence on Wellesley St.
The impact of deferring the Federal to Hobson section can really be seen here with the cycleway abruptly ending and the road lanes curving to take the space. While I can understand the council trying to avoid some expensive streetscape works, it seems the council could have at least put in place some temporary design features so the linear park space continued to Hobson rather than just returning completely to its former design.
Elliott to Queen St
This section is being delivered by the council at the same time as the first section and will see public space expanded and trees added.
Queen to Kitchener St
The final section to be built will be east of Queen St. Across all sections, the council say 20 trees will be added to the corridor.
The changes here also include improvements to the intersection with High St and Lorne St.
During a Governing Body meeting last week the council approved the two changes mentioned earlier, and later, in a confidential session approved the funding for the project. But while it was in the public section of the meeting there were a couple of things that stood out.
- The biggest push against the project came from Mike Lee, who, after complaining about the disruption caused to businesses by the construction of the CRL, asked for the project to be deferred to the Transport and Infrastructure committee to review the design.
- While the Mayor has been very opposed to funding most things, he’s a strong supporter of the project. In response to suggestion by Lee said “Anyone who seconds that is going to be threatened within an inch of their life“. Later in the meeting he said of the targeted rate and the project “as the only city resident and the only one who has contributed to it, I have to declare an interest, I think it’s a bloody good thing” and “I’m a CBD ratepayer and I think this is a damn good thing“.He also had this to say about traffic management processes “When we do get around to approving this, if we ever live that long, I’ll make absolutely sure it is a condition that any of the contractors utes who are parked in areas in front of businesses will be crushed“.
You can see the public part of the discussion here
It’s exciting to finally see this project get underway. I just hope the council can look at some options for getting the Hobson to Federal St section built.