Mayor staked home on Britomart

By Mathew Dearnaley

Christine Fletcher. Photo / Natalie Slade
Christine Fletcher. Photo / Natalie Slade

Former Auckland mayor Christine Fletcher has told how she effectively bet her home as well as $300 million of ratepayers' money on her vision for Britomart.

She revealed to the Herald that she spent more than $50,000 in legal fees on top of free advice "to try to protect myself and my family home" from a potential lawsuit by would-be developers of a grandiose, $1.5 billion plan of her mayoral predecessor, Les Mills.

Today marks the 10th birthday of the opening of what became the $211 Britomart transport centre at the foot of Queen St.

The Mills plan had been sprung on members of the former Auckland City Council in 1994 by its property department.

It would have involved the loss of harbour views and a number of heritage buildings in favour of 11-storey tower blocks erected on top of five underground levels for buses, trains and parking spaces for 2900 cars.

The scheme twisted through nine years of political, commercial and legal wrangling, including Mrs Fletcher's ousting of Mr Mills on her promise to rethink Britomart, before her slimmed-down vision came to fruition beneath heritage buildings that have been restored.

"It was all going to be obliterated and to me it was going to be over my body," Mrs Fletcher said, on the eve of today's celebration by Mayor Len Brown of a development which kick-started a wider-scale rail upgrade for Auckland.

Mrs Fletcher recalls that although elected in 1998 on a rethink Britomart platform, she had to bite her tongue in her first year as mayor to give the developers no cause to sue both her and the city council, while being "pilloried" by media for seemingly going along with the Mills plan.

"I took the view that if we played a very straight hand, I took the bet with myself that they would not be able to follow through on their contractual obligations," she said.

"It was the loneliest period of my life when I could only keep my own counsel and just absolutely hope and pray that the contractual partners would not be able to meet their obligations.

"At the end of the day they could not follow through and the ratepayers were not exposed to a $300 million liability.

"But it was high-risk stakes - they would have called that up at the drop of a hat, and they were quite happy to take a civil suit against me personally."

Mr Brown will this morning announce an agreement with the new owners of the Downtown Shopping Centre to co-ordinate the timing of the first stage of the two proposed City Rail Link tunnels from Britomart to Mt Eden with a multi-storey rebuild of the property.

The existing mall will have to be demolished to make way for "cut and cover" tunnels for the beginning of the 3.4km route, before it becomes deep enough for a boring machine to take over without disturbing many surface buildings.

- NZ Herald

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