Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

City makeover means major disruption

Central Auckland is facing years of chaos as several huge building projects get under way to advance the city's international aspirations. Photo / Greg Bowker
Central Auckland is facing years of chaos as several huge building projects get under way to advance the city's international aspirations. Photo / Greg Bowker

Central Auckland is facing years of chaos as several huge building projects get under way to advance the city's international aspirations.

One business is looking to relocate 35 staff, two big employers are offering flexible hours for staff and it is taking up to 45 minutes for motorists to exit carparks at one choke point.

One medical centre has raised concerns about ambulance and disabled access and work to move a stormwater pipe is causing congestion and delays on the Link bus service.

The situation will get worse next month when main work starts on the $2.5 billion City Rail Link and restrictions on Customs St kick in from June.

Other projects on the go or coming up include the 38-month build for the $477 million SkyCity convention centre and a $681 million redevelopment of the Downtown Shopping Centre on the waterfront.

At least two high-rise towers are planned on Albert St, which will be disruption central for up to seven years as trenches are dug and tunnels bored for the rail link.

Restaurant operators such as Erdal Demiray, of Midnight Express Cafe, and Claudia Petricevich, of Tony's Lord Nelson, are feeling the pinch of early works in Victoria St.

Demiray reckons business at his Turkish cafe is down about 20 per cent because of noise and barriers.

Tony's Lord Nelson, a steakhouse established about 40 years ago, has been told work will continue for 19 months, says Petricevich, who is trying to stay positive.

Her optimism is not shared by one diner, an insurance businessman who told the Weekend Herald that he planned to vacate his Queen St offices and move 35 staff to the North Shore. It already took 45 minutes, or 20 on a good day, to get out of a carparking building in Durham Lane and on to Albert St, said the businessman, who did not want to be named.

In a statement, Wilson Parking admitted delays of up to 45 minutes because of roadworks and said its Elliott St, Finance Plaza and City Centre carparks are most affected.

A spokeswomanfor the City Rail Link team said it had undertaken extensive consultation with affected businesses in Albert St and was providing regular updates.

CityMed staff said they were concerned the roadworks would affect ambulance and disabled access to their medical centre in Albert St.

Dr Steve Culpan, director and occupational health doctor at the centre, said they had met with the project's management to raise concerns but had yet to hear back.

"We have a number of severely handicapped patients, including wheelchair-bound patients ... and that's a worry.

"Our other problem is ambulance access. At times we have people brought here who are severely ill who can only be taken by ambulance in an emergency. Last week we had a heart attack."

Ambulance and disabled access is out the back, on nearby Mills Lane.

Noise was another issue, said Dr Culpan.

"If it's too noisy and you're trying to listen to someone's chest, you can't tell whether they've got pneumonia or not," he said.

ANZ Bank, with its headquarters in Albert St housing about 1500 staff, faces some short-term pain, says spokesman Peter Parussini, but there will be a lot of long-term gain.

"ANZ has flexible working arrangements for many staff anyway so in consultation with their managers they can alter the times they come to and from work if peak hour travel becomes too painful."

The bank, he said, was very supportive of the convention centre and City Rail Link. Strong tourism and public transport was critical for making Auckland a liveable and attractive international city.

Auckland Council, which houses about 2080 staff in its Albert St headquarters, is encouraging staff to consider new ways of travelling into the city, including public transport, walking, cycling and carpooling.

Chief operating officer Dean Kimpton said the council already has a flexible working policy available to all staff, who can arrange to work from alternative offices or home.

Vic Beck, chief executive of Heart of the City, says the challenge is to stay positive about the fact the CBD is growing and continues to be seen as vibrant and open for business.

The central city, she says, has been going gangbusters since the Rugby World Cup, with spending figures showing shopping receipts up 8.2 per cent to $1.59 billion in 2015 and pedestrian numbers up 7.1 per cent over the same period.

The central city has a population of more than 41,000, up from 10,000 in 2001, and 105,000 people work in the city. Students account for a further 80,000.

Changes for city buses

Auckland Transport is introducing changes to city centre bus routes on April 17 ahead of work starting in Albert St on the City Rail Link.

Changes to the CityLink, Airport Bus and suburban routes have been announced, but details are still being finalised for Link services.

Some buses will return to Queen St on new dedicated bus lanes, leaving one lane in each direction for other vehicles.

From May, cars and pedestrians will have limited access to Albert St and restrictions on crossing Customs St will kick in from June. Then from September until May next year, Customs St will be "very constrained" for cars and pedestrians between Queen St and Albert St.

A control centre monitoring the anticipated logjams will be making adjustments to light phasing and other tweaks to keep traffic moving as well as possible.

For more information, visit here.

- Additional reporting: Moana Tapaleao

- NZ Herald

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