Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Plan to keep central Auckland square public defeated

Queen Elizabeth Square may be lost to the public as an open space if a shopping centre plan goes ahead.
Queen Elizabeth Square may be lost to the public as an open space if a shopping centre plan goes ahead.

Strong measures to consider keeping Queen Elizabeth Square in public ownership before it could be privatised for a giant mall have been soundly defeated by the Auckland Council.

Mayor Len Brown and a majority of councillors voted against a motion by councillor Chris Darby requesting Precinct Properties to do more work on an option to keep the square.

Last month, the council agreed in principle to sell the square to the property company.

The sale is subject to statutory processes and the proceeds from the $60 million public open space being reinvested in new or enhanced public space in the area.

Mr Darby, the political urban design champion, said it appeared that Precinct had undertaken some work on enhancing the square but this was not presented to council for consideration.

The only option given to councillors when they decided to sell the square in principle was to incorporate the square into the redevelopment, he said.

Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse said the council had agreed to plans like the city centre master plan and set the framework and outcomes.

"We are not urban designers, nor are we architects. If we start delving down to the minutiae we will kill innovation, we will kill beauty, design and the expectation of an exciting, scintillating downtown," she said.

Ms Hulse said the enhanced option would be included in work that was already underway and reported monthly to the Auckland development committee that she chairs.

But Mr Darby said every time the issue had been raised at the council it had been shut down and he had no intention of being "bludgeoned by blindness".

"I want us to go into this eyes wide open.

"Our decisions in coming months will shape the lower city centre and waterfront for a century or more...and decisions need to be based on very best practice and the very best information. Let's analyse the facts," Mr Darby said.

He said there was no political resolutions that directed the council to ensure the council properly considered Queen Elizabeth Square and evaluated it against Precinct's preferred option to acquire the 2000sq m square.

Mr Darby said the process needed to be transparent to Aucklanders and take account the city centre master plan that clearly identified the retention and enhancement of Queen Elizabeth Square.

Council urban design champion Ludo Campbell-Reid said Precinct had undertaken a lot of work on the downtown shopping centre in the past 18 months.

He said the view of council urban design staff was the enhanced option was not the best solution for the area, nor Precinct Properties.

"Therefore we are not going to put up a scheme that they don't support," Mr Campbell-Reid said.

Urban design staff, in conjunction with Precinct, are considering a new street from the Chief Post Office to a new bus terminal in lower Albert St, pedestrianising lower Queen St, and a north-south pedestrian connection between Customs St and Quay St. This would reinstate the old Little Queen St that was removed in 1954.

- NZ Herald

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