Plans for Auckland Transport's ambitious $2.4 billion City Rail Link project are gathering speed, as it secures more real estate along the route.
An AT spokeswoman said the council-controlled authority had now bought 58 of the 70 surface properties it needs, spending $85 million securing the route - a critical part of Auckland's biggest transport project.
That means AT now controls 83 per cent of the properties it needs and the full-steam-ahead approach has seen big progress since last year.
The update indicated 23 new property purchases were concluded in the past nine months, as owners agree to sell their land and buildings for the rail route's progress.
AT's relatively rapid pace is a big advance from the middle of last year when it had only concluded 35 surface purchases and spent $35 million.
Some politicians have questioned why all the pricey real estate is being bought well before Government funding as AT closes deals on the properties along its 3.4km Britomart to Mt Eden route.
AT's biggest sticking point appears to remain the valuable Mt Eden Life Church, a property which it has been negotiating on for some time: the spokeswoman said the purchase of that big property near the Mt Eden Station, between the bottom of Flower St and Mt Eden Rd, was yet to be concluded.
Part of that issue is finding the Christians a new property. The spokeswoman said that was very much part of the deal and that no sale would be concluded until it was resolved.
"The issue is finding an alternative site. Negotiations are under way," she said of 95 Mt Eden Rd.
The church has a number of businesses and owns several properties to the north and south but that property is the heart of its church operation.
Last year, AT revealed it needed 73 above-ground properties and 200 subterranean properties to secure the route. Because New Zealand property law stipulates property ownership goes all the way to the centre of the earth, purchases are necessary for the route to be secured and the project to go ahead. New Zealand law contrasts with that of some European countries where ownership extends only some metres below ground.
The subterranean properties involve 88 negotiations on about 200 titles or pieces of land. The spokeswoman cited a driveway with multiple owners and single building situated over numerous titles.
Auckland Council plans to begin enabling works next year by building twin cut-and-cover rail tunnels from Britomart to Wyndham St, beneath the Downtown shopping centre and Albert St.
That $250 million of works is timed to coincide with Precinct Properties' $550 million 35-level Downtown office/shopping tower, with a goal of completing the work before the World Masters Games in Auckland by April, 2017.
Asked about the biggest outstanding issues, the spokeswoman indicated the huge programme of buying the underground properties remained the largest hurdle.
"The upcoming subterranean acquisitions will be under way later this year," she said.
However, AT has been somewhat a victim of its own success, having bought some properties it now no longer needs after plans for the Newton station were ditched.
Now, only two new station numbers will be built: Aotea, 13m below ground, and Karangahape, 33m below.
But AT is in no hurry to put its surplus properties back on the market.
"We are not selling any until we have a conforming design. The park created at the top of Symonds Street is one property we bought for the previous Newton station. We have improved it as per pictures on the Facebook page and will keep it until such stage as the project design/methodology etc is confirmed with constructor," the AT spokeswoman said.
Lawyer Adina Thorn represented about six owners on AT's route. Initial AT offers were not always fair compensation, she said. Eden Terrace was a great location, so close to the CBD yet relatively cheap at the time business owners bought, she said. Now, they faced shifting to Auckland's outskirts to carry on in business, she said, which was less convenient.
Thorn praised AT's third-party negotiators, saying they had taken a straight-forward approach compared to other Public Works Act acquisitions.
"All the ones I acted for were commercial businesses and they were paid the values they were seeking. But Eden Terrace was a great location for many of these, being printing and advertising businesses mainly. They all want to go to Ponsonby, then they realise what the prices are like there," Thorn said.
The Property Council says Auckland's train patronage grew from 2.4 million annual passengers in 2002, to 10.3 million before the Rugby World Cup started, to 12.5 million last year.
" It's growing at 20 per cent a year and will keep up this rate of growth for the next few years," it said, noting how CRL was about removing a major network bottleneck.