Newmarket Square a disaster?

By Andre Hueber


Station Square Total Fail reads a headline on the Auckland transport and urban design blog. The article calls it a ghost town: "soul-less, cold and concrete dominated, dwarfed by ugly claustrophobic apartment buildings."


Online commenters agree: they want greenery, performers, art.


So do the city's design experts and local politicians - even the builders. There's general agreement that putting Newmarket Station's main entrance at Remuera Road rather than Broadway dommed the square, and hopes of connecting it to the shopping boulevard.


Emilia Kabzamalova, from the University of Auckland School of Architecture, says it's only used by people who get off the train. "When you walk up Broadway you don't see it. It's like it doesn't exist."


There was no natural flow of people and it was no surprise people had begin to use it for undesirable purposes.


"To draw tje [right] people in , it needs to be as accessible and as visible as possible."


Ms Kabzamalova says the square appeared to be a result of hard negotiations between too many people pulling in all sorts of directions and "the result is a comprimise."


At AUT's department of spatial design, senior lecturer Elvon Young agrees: "It's conceived as a hub but it's not realised...it's a prime opportunity. But the problem is that Broadway creates a wall to the trains."


The design had given rise to a type of retail store and apartment tenant that is not necessarily good for the area.


"It could've been a catalyst for future development in Newmarket but they've created a space no one will go to, which attracts a certain type of shop...they're almost certainly likely to fail."


The Council's "design champion" Ludo Campbell Reid, says the square received consent when attitudes to urban design were "mediocrity will do". Problems included the design detail and the proportions of buildings.


"All the ingredients are right but it has the wrong menu. We must learn from our mistakes and try not to make them again."


The new council had set up a design panel, people had been retrained and changes had been made to the District Plan.


Cameron Brewer was CEO of Newmarket Business Association during development. When the station opened he told the NZ Herald the area would become a "great public space." Now an Auckland Councillor, he clarified his comments this week saying the station wasn't to be confused with the sqaure.


"The square was a comprimise from day one. Initially it was all going to be infill with apartments but planners of the day made it part of the condition of consent that the developer would create a public open space. It was a very, very, smalll victory which allowed some public amenities on what would've been a privately owned site.


"Unfortunately, the standard of construction was below par and subsequently, because it's not an attractive place, the aesthetic hasn't attracted retailers to date.


"We had a $35 million station that was fantastic and a building by L+Y Holdings that was an aesthetic disaster. We feared it was never going to attract any quality retailers  - particularly fashion, because you're in a square with hundreds of apartments with washing, bikes and pot plants filling up their balconies."


The hope was that with more trains and commuters passing through the station, the square would attract florists, newsagents, dry cleaning shops, kiosks, cafes and sandwich centres.


Ashley Church, his successor at the business association, says it was a "major faux pas" to put the station entrance on Remuera Road. He anticipated problems attracting people to the square because it sits above a carpark and doesn't have access to electricity or water.


"Consents...were approved in 1998, but by the time the building was constructed they were totally out of keeping with what Newmarket had become. The reality is it's there, so let's make it work for us."


Waitemata Local Board chairman Shale Chambers believes the square has potential, but its reputation is being damaged.

"It has huge potential to be a town centre of Newmarket but the shops haven't thrived and the main entrance is a urine-infested alleway....the long term solution is proper access from Broadway."


Space for a wider entrance of 4m had been "effectively aquired" from PLP Properties, who planned to redevelop several shops, but that depended on resource consent. It was expected to be built in 2014-2015.


Auckland Council property officer Rex Smith says the new entrance would align with the alley but the body corporate had to agree.


Steven Yee of L+Y Holdings, represents the body corporate for the square's residents and retailers. They are concerned about the poor access from Broadway and security issues.


Favouring a more visible gateway on Broadway and supporting calls for greenery and a more lively ambience, he says the company gave the council money to buy shops on either side of the proposed entrance, but it spent it on two shops indise the square which are empty.


"They've sunk $1.1 into these shops and nobody will buy them."


He says the council will ultimately have to pay more to widen the entrance, which needs to be at least 6m wide or as wide as the one on Remuera Rd.


Auckland Council's Mark Bowater says it was realised better access was needed from Broadway at the time of construction. L+Y paid $1.6 million to the former Auckland City Council, some of which was earmarked to buy land on Broadway.


A report to the local board last May says the council originally proposed demolishing a two-storey building at 240 Broadway, but its owners - PLP - rejected the idea. PLP suggested a different alignment as part of its proposed redevelopment of 240-248 Broadway. The council bought shops in Station Square to "show good faith" to PLP.


In 2010, the council bought an easement from PLP over the accessway for $500,000 which has yet to be paid. The council also said it would contribute $300,000 towards construction and $400,000 to move public toilets.


SQUARE IS A CESSPIT


Steven Yee, of L+Y Holdings, has presented a 200-signature petition to Waitemata Local Board, describing the square as a place fouled by urine and vomit, where drugs are consumed and gangs of youths drink alcohol.


The petition calls for security gates from Remuera Road and Broadway to be shut by 10pm. Things came to a head after a stabbing in December, when blood was left unattended for an entire day.


Mr Yee says L+Y decided to pay for its own security guard. He wants the council to cover that cost and also for the area to be patrolled from 3pm to 5pm on weekdays and public holidays.


Auckland Transport is responsible for the station while Auckland Council is responsible for accessways and the local board for the sqaure.


"There are so many different parties involved," Mr Yee says.


"None of them wants to know about it and we're left with the problem."


Local board chairman Shale Chambers has called for a multidepartment report. He says council regulations allow for the square  to be shut half after the last train and up to half an hour before the first  - from 12.50am to 5am - but that hasn't been happening.

- The Aucklander

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