The leading engineer in charge of the massive redevelopment of Auckland's City Centre is pretty darned excited over the incredible transformation that is happening all at one.
"I've got to say what's going on in the city centre has never happened in my lifetime in New Zealand," says Barry Potter.
"And I've lived almost all my life in Auckland apart from a few years overseas.
"We've got everything going on down Quay St. We've got Albert St. We've got midtown which is developing Karangahape Rd. Then America's Cup and City Rail Link — so the total spend is phenomenal.
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"City Rail Link is $4.419 billion — I know the number well — and on top of that, well at the moment, we've got probably about another 550 million dollars' worth of work underway right now, but the total spend is up to about a billion dollars on top of CRL. And that includes Quay St."
It is a big challenge to deliver to deadline 24 central city projects that are all being worked on at once.
Potter is Auckland Council's director of Infrastructure and Environmental Services. This is a big role overseeing Auckland's stormwater management; the programme management and funding agreements for major housing infrastructure and for the city centre public works; Auckland's biosecurity, biodiversity and low carbon programmes; Auckland's kerbside recycling, waste and organics programmes; coastal and foreshore erosion protection programmes and other specialist services.
An engineer by trade, he has led teams on significant infrastructure projects in New Zealand, Asia, South America and through the Pacific.
Some of the 24 projects are extraordinarily complex. But a lot will be completed this year.
"What's quite difficult at the moment, certainly the Downtown area, by the end of the year will be pretty spectacular," Potter says.
"The complexity comes because of the way they all interact with each other and that they have different deliveries on them.
"We've got City Rail Link being delivered by CRLL, we've got Quay St being delivered by Auckland Transport. We also have all this private sector stuff that's going on — such as Precinct with Commercial Bay.
"What that requires is a lot of planning and coordination going amongst those groups and I've got to say the level of planning and the management structures to make sure they all interact and minimise the disruption as much as possible, works well.
"You still have disruption. You cannot avoid it. But it's happening as quick as we can and the interaction between the groups is positive and strong and I see that first-hand."
The unusually clement Auckland weather is also working to Potter's advantage.
"There's a number of things going in our favour. It's been a fantastic construction season. It might not be good for Auckland's water, but from a construction perspective, we really do have a great season here of being able to achieve a lot."
Potter chairs an Auckland Council executive steering group with representatives from the council's Infrastructure and Environmental Services division, the Chief Planning Office, Development Programme Office, Communications, the Auckland Design Office and the Mayoral Office. The steering group also includes chief executives (or their representatives) from Auckland Transport, Panuku Development Auckland, City Rail Link, Regional Facilities Auckland, Ports of Auckland, Mana Whenua Kaitiaki Forum, Wynyard Edge Alliance and Ateed.
Various project leader groups sit under that.
Inevitably there are frustrations.
The lines of red cones which dot much of the Auckland CBD, walling off projects, are having an impact on the city and how people get around that.
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"We can talk a bit about some of the things we're doing there.
"Acknowledging it has an impact on businesses around, that requires a lot of interaction with the businesses and some parts perhaps didn't get off to such a good start, and the lessons out of that have been applied elsewhere.
"Businesses down the bottom of town are pretty happy."
The upshot of the roading congestion has been a much bigger uptake of public transport and more people walking or using cycles, as Potter himself does, travelling in from an outer suburb on his e-bike.
"You'll hear people say, 'Well, why are we doing it all in one go? What happens if you phase it out and spread it over a longer time?'
"And on the face of it that kind of seems like it might be a nice idea. The reality is different.
"Every time you stop a project and put it on hold and restart it, costs go up because you've got disestablishment, reestablishment, that's not cheap. When you leave it partially complete, you still have the disruption but it goes on for a longer time.
"So calls are being made: Let's just get on and do it, and get it out of the way. Part of that is using America's Cup as a catalyst.
"That sets the end of the year which means next summer will be a lot better. People will see we'll have the works substantially complete."
By the time the Apec Leaders Meeting is held in Auckland in November 2021, the Downtown projects will be complete but the City Rail Link will still be under construction.
"They will be doing Mt Eden station and there is a big hole out the front of this building [135 Albert St] which they'll be doing, as well.
"This part will be disrupted, though the way they're building out here is a little bit different.
"The technology that they're using is called top-down construction. What they do is cut walls into the ground, called diaphragm walls, which is similar to what the did on Albert St, and then they build the top slab over the top of that and then they dig out underneath."
Good coordination is key and Potter spends a lot of his time ensuring relationships between the parties are open and productive.
On a day-to-day basis things do come up.
"It takes close collaboration among various teams to work out among themselves how to deal with problems such as getting equipment in.
"Think of lower Queen St, which is very complex from a traffic perspective, because we've got three projects underway in the same location," he says.
"We've got City Rail Link, we've got Precinct, we've got Quay St.
"These conversations that go around: 'I need to get such and such into my site, can you give it to me?' 'I can't give it to you today, I'll give it to you tomorrow' … and that's working out all the time. And close collaboration.
"That means that from our level, we need to make sure the relationships are strong and work together.
And you know, when things bump on various projects, they know, that we're there to help them through that."
The big driver when it comes to setting the timeframe is the America's Cup regatta.
"We've got to have America's Cup delivered," says Potter.
"It doesn't move."
He rattles through the relevant projects:
• The Wynyard Alliance is delivering its infrastructure on time, or, ahead of time. "And looking on budget, or maybe even better".
• Downtown is on track for completion at the end of this year. " There might be a little bit of tidying up in the New Year".
• The ferry terminal, that's under way. "The teams are doing some smart stuff to make sure they hit their deadlines".
• The seawall is under construction in Quay St. "That's a big project. It's complex. Very constrained. The seawalls are essential because the previous one had some pretty seismic issues with it and heaven forbid we have a shake and you could lose Quay St into the tide, that's now being prevented."
"If you walk down Albert St you can see what it's going to be like. Walk down Quay St on the Southern side of Quay St, you can see it taking place.
"It's pretty neat. And I'm looking forward to the day the red cones are gone."
Other projects under way include the redevelopment of Karangahape Rd. Myers Park is next.
Potter is enthusiastic about the changes on Victoria St which will have a new cycleway and public areas.
There is a question over Queen St, which was earlier mooted for light rail.
He says the city centre masterplan is currently going through a refresh.
"But the move is to much more pedestrianisation there and causes questions about light rail."
There will be more clarity when the Government announces its light rail intentions later this month.
"I can imagine in our next 50 years — which is longer than I'll be around — you can see how the city's going to be changed, " he says.
"The City Rail Link will be transformational.
"Traffic planners talk of these travel times — you know, people like to live within 30 minutes of work. But they'll go up to an hour.
"But if you look at industrial areas like Penrose then map out on a road network say out to 30 minutes or 45 minutes, we're looking out past Mt Albert. Going the other way, coming from the West straight through."
Getting ready for the America's Cup
Potter is confident key infrastructure for the upcoming America's Cup is in place.
Milestones have been hit for the development of Hobson Wharf and new breakwaters. The base pads which will house America's Cup syndicates at Wynyard Point are being completed.
"Right now, Prada is in there setting up their structures on Hobson Wharf," Potter says.
"The other challengers are setting up on their bases over there, as well."
A big drain with huge pipes is being put in to improve water quality.
"That's the real legacy of the America's Cup — the water quality improvement and the floating infrastructure pontoons which superyachts will tie up to.
The focus has now shifted from building the infrastructure to delivering the event."
There is a raft of major sporting events to come before the November 2021 Apec Leaders Meeting.
"Next year's going to be a fantastic year," says Potter.
"I think America's Cup and City Rail Link — both of them have provided catalyst for real change in Auckland. And then we've got Apec.
"Next year's going to be a monster. What a beauty. We'll all be hungover by Christmas, eh?"
Executive Steering Group
• Barry Potter (chairman).
• Auckland Council: Representatives from Infrastructure and Environmental Services division, Chief Planning Office, Development Programme Office, Communications, Auckland Design Office and the Mayoral Office.
• Representatives from Auckland Transport, Panuku Development Auckland, City Rail Link, Regional Facilities Auckland, Ports of Auckland, Mana Whenua Kaitiaki Forum and Wynyard Edge Alliance/Ateed.
Now under way in Auckland's City Centre Development Programme
• America's Cup infrastructure and team bases
• City Rail Link
• Britomart Station
• Aotea Station
• Karangahape Station
• Mt Eden Station
• Albert St upgrade
• Lower Queen St upgrade
• Daldy St park
• Downtown programme
• Quay St Strengthening
•Ferry Basin Redevelopment
• Downtown Public Space
• Quay St Enhancement
• Lower Albert St Bus Interchange
• Galway St upgrade
• Federal St upgrade
• High St upgrade
• Karangahape Rd enhancements
• Tīramarama Way
• Urunga Plaza
• Victoria St cycleway
• Victoria St upgrade
• Westhaven Marine Village