Downtown privatisation would have positive impact on public spaces, report finds.

Auckland Council could use money from Queen Elizabeth Square's sale to upgrade the area in front of the Britomart transport terminal and around the waterfront.

A new report on privatising the 2000sq m downtown civic square, straddling the bottom end of Queen St to the waterfront, has backed councillors' May 15 majority vote to approve the sale in principle.

The report written by built environment manager Tim Watts went to the council's Auckland Development Committee and said the square's sale would allow the wider redevelopment of the block. That means billionaire NZX landlord Precinct Properties could go ahead and purchase, then expand into the now public-owned square when it builds a $300 million block.

Precinct has consent for a 41-level skyscraper on its Downtown Shopping Centre site, formerly owned by Westfield NZ. Watts said the square's sale would mean downtown waterfront public areas could be enhanced, with an upgraded pedestrianised civic space in front of the former Chief Post Office and money from the sale used across other downtown waterfront public spaces from lower Albert St in the west to the Admiralty Steps east of Queens Wharf.

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The square is thought to be worth at least $60 million but the sale has been questioned by councillor Chris Darby, who criticised commercial proposals for public land without master planning.

Watts' report said Precinct owned buildings around the square, including the Downtown Shopping Centre, Zurich House and the HSBC block at 1 Queen St.

In June, the council commissioned consultants Reset Urban Design to do an independent evaluation of the downtown area including the square and that "found the negative site attributes of QE Square outweighed the positive site attributes".

The square was a poor quality public open space that did little to support public use and enjoyment in the downtown area, was windy and shady most of the day, did not meet the recreation needs of residents, workers or visitors, created a gap in the building edge, was a residual space that had become the forecourt to a private shopping mall and was not a destination, Watts said.

Watts said Copenhagen-based public realm specialists Gehl Architects came to a similar conclusion after visiting the square on June 13, finding mitigation to overcome unpleasantness would include buying and demolishing the HSBC tower for $100 million to allow more light, eliminate wind problems and create better views.

This is an option that is not planned to proceed.

Watts said the square's attributes were listed as being next to a major pedestrian route, its size at 2000sq m and being opposite the Britomart Transport Centre.

Watts said that for two to three years the square would be closed to the public from mid-2016 to allow the City Rail Link to be built.

The Waitemata Local Board was involved in workshops and supported the downtown study's findings.

The board also supported Precinct's plans for a new east-west laneway through the middle of its redeveloped Downtown block, Watts said.

Sale proceeds
Queen Elizabeth Square sale proceeds to go to:
• Upgrading pedestrian area around ex-Central Post Office (in the square).
• Improving the waterfront at the end of Lower Albert St
• Creating better areas around the historic brown Ferry Builidng on waterfront.
• Improving Admiralty Steps area east of Queens Wharf (where ferry terminal is).