Upsets and outrage from start to finish

Controversy has never been far away from the $43.5 million upgrade of Queen St and associated projects such as Vulcan Lane and Khartoum Place.

It started with CBD project director Jo Wiggins famously saying during the so-called consultation process on Vulcan Lane: "We [officers] should establish our preference and not present to stakeholders anything we don't want."

That attitude led to a public uprising at plans to rip up the red chip pavers in Vulcan Lane and spilled over into an equally one-eyed council approach to destroy the tiled suffragette memorial in Khartoum Place.

It took a group of fashionistas in Vulcan Lane and a dazzle of dames standing up for the memorial for politicians to overturn officers' wishes.

Then, on Christmas Eve 2005, all hell broke loose over plans to cut down 20 exotic trees for natives in the first stage of the Queen St upgrade.

The "Queen St massacre" caught Mayor Dick Hubbard off guard, and he had to rush back to Auckland from a holiday touring the South Island on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

In the end, the council decided 17 of the 20 trees would go but be replaced by other exotics, not natives. A plan to do away with trees altogether in lower Queen St, for the politically correct reason that this was below the foreshore line, was quietly dropped.

Next came the disruption, not just to pedestrians but to tills of 780 Queen St retail businesses. At the height of work last year, with pedestrians jammed into narrow corridors on both sides of Queen St, Mike Aholelei, manager of Gloria Jean's Coffee, said: "People walk into the shop, hear the diggers and basically walk out again."

Businesses reported trade slumping by as much as 40 per cent.

The council hoped motorists would get a taste of the snarl-ups and not come back. It did not work.

Angry motorists cursed the traffic jams and buses took three times longer to travel from the bottom of Queen St to Karangahape Rd.

Then came the $250,000 glass and light sculpture, Source, outside the Civic Theatre. Critics panned it and artist Elizabeth McClure demanded her name be removed from a plaque in the pavement because her role was limited to conceptual development.

Worse, it had to be repaired four months after being installed.

In a final moment of madness, the council closed Queen St at Easter to reseal the road. Retailers were livid.

Dr Jill McPherson, the council officer in overall charge of the upgrade, said with a chuckle that the final result was "absolutely worth it".

"I'm really impressed with how much cleaner and clearer it looks. I like the width of the footpaths ... the extra things we have done for pedestrians.

"I'm very pleased with those [new ] trees. They add a real freshness to the street.

"In five years' time we will have forgotten the controversy and how difficult such a big construction project is in the middle of your city, and we will just be enjoying it."

- NZ Herald

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