Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

QE Square option kept from council, says official

Confidential briefing prepared by officers outlines plan to retain it as open space

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.

The privatisation of Queen Elizabeth Square in downtown Auckland has allegedly been pushed through a council committee without councillors being told of an option to retain the $60 million public open space.

Councillor Chris Darby has uncovered a confidential council document which outlines two development options for Queen Elizabeth Square - selling the square to Precinct Properties for a giant mall and keeping it in public ownership.

The design and development brief for Precinct Properties was prepared by council officers in October last year to assist the property company with its plans for a three-storey mall and 36-storey commercial tower on the Downtown Shopping Centre block.

Mr Darby said as far as he was aware the brief had not been brought to the attention of the governing body or relevant council committee.

This was disputed by a council spokeswoman who said the Auckland development committee had been fully briefed on opportunities with Precinct, but was unable to say when or provide any briefing documents.

She said no decisions had been made on the future of Queen Elizabeth Square and discussions were continuing.

Last month, councillors were given less than 24 hours to consider a report on the privatisation of Queen Elizabeth Square before voting 14-7 to approve the sale in principle to Precinct.

The report to the Auckland development committee recommended the sale in principle, with the proceeds going towards new or improved public spaces in the area.

The report did not spell out the opportunity to keep Queen Elizabeth Square in public ownership as public open space.

Waitemata and Gulf councillor Mike Lee, whose ward includes downtown Auckland, accused council staff of "withholding wholesale information and releasing a retail version of reality that suits them".

"We have a culture problem in the Auckland Council with information. Good decisions cannot be made unless councillors are given all the facts," Mr Lee said.

Mr Darby has lodged a notice of motion at Thursday's governing body meeting requesting that Precinct press ahead with the option of retaining Queen Elizabeth Square in public ownership, and this be independently evaluated against the privatisation option.

The notice of motion also calls for an independent evaluation of existing and potential values of Queen Elizabeth Square.

A commercial real estate expert said the 2000sq m public square had a value of between $20,000 and $30,000 a square metre, valuing the public asset at up to $60 million.

- NZ Herald

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