Litigation has begun between Mark Gunton's Westgate and the Auckland Council but two prominent councillors are backing the businessman, saying they are frustrated about lack of a new bus interchange at the $2 billion northwestern town centre.
Westgate Town Centre, Westgate Properties and NZRPG Management are suing the council and Auckland Transport in the High Court at Auckland for losses of $33 million for allegedly breaching obligations over many aspects of the new town centre, including no new public bus interchange, creating a "fundamentally dysfunctional" centre.
But the council entities have hit back and Gunton lost the first round.
He's been ordered to pay the council $11.8m for undergrounding high-tension power lines, which would otherwise have hung over the still-expanding development next to the northwestern motorway at Massey.
Justice Edwin Wylie rejected NZRPG's argument that the council's claim should be considered with disputes over 22 other contracts with the council, signed over a 13-year period.
Rich-lister Gunton said the case was continuing, with document discovery underway. He remains frustrated about what he sees as a lack of council support for his new town centre, particularly the planned new bus interchange.
"People were urinating and defecating outside," he says of what he regards as an unsuitable existing network of temporary street-side bus shelters, "so much so, that AT were forced to build this," he said, gesturing at the new silver public toilets beside one bus shelter.
"Yet there's meant to be a proper bus transport interchange here," he says, pointing to Manukau and New Lynn as town centres where AT backed development and expansion by providing significant infrastructure.
Councillors Linda Cooper and Penny Hulse accuse AT and NZTA of "failing" the area, saying the existing arrangements are refugee-like.
"For years a bus interchange has been planned, fit for a metropolitan centre which Westgate is," Cooper said. "But a standoff between AT, who have no flexibility, and the developer has led to a refugee-status huddle of four bus shelters far away from any central convenient location. What's worse is now I'm told there is no budget for a transport centre at Westgate."
Hulse, originally part of Westgate's planning genesis with Sir Bob Harvey at Waitākere City, agreed.
The councillors are concerned about the confusing roading network: "Approving road layout for construction by the developer then changing the layout with temporary signs and orange sticks after they've been built, a refusal by AT to allow two-way traffic between Westgate and Northwest - an absolute shemozzle," Cooper fumed.
"AT wants the developer to build it but are not paying for it," she said, referring to crucial transport and roading infrastructure.
People in the west and northwest feel abandoned and shortchanged, they said.
"We were told if we had a petrol tax the Government would build light rail to relieve congestion and provide transport choice. That seems a distant dream now even if it was possibly not viable in the first place," Cooper said.
The west and northwest have the fewest employment opportunities and public transport options of any Auckland area, they said.
"A substantial bus station at Westgate and making better use of motorway shoulders is the least AT and NZTA could do now to get people moving again. I will keep advocating loudly for this," Cooper said.
Auckland Transport said in response that it had been working with Westgate developers over several years to secure a site for a bus interchange in the new town centre but no deal could be struck.
"To date it has not been possible to reach an outcome that is satisfactory to all parties, however a review is currently underway to see if it is possible to identify further options for investigation that have not previously been considered," AT said.
"There is currently no direct access in Maki St from the new town centre across Fred Taylor Drive to the old shopping centre. This access can be provided once a large advertising sign is removed from the middle of the road and AT is working with NZRPG to enable this to happen," AT said.
Gunton said of the shared pedestrian and vehicle square: "Shared space is scared space."
AT's statement indicated that could be reviewed: "Auckland Council is currently reviewing the form and function of the shared space in the new town square with a view to improving safety for pedestrians and vehicles. In the interim, AT is addressing safety concerns by temporarily restricting traffic movements in and out of Maki St from Fred Taylor Drive and Tawhia Drive," it said.
Kevin Reid, NZTA system design senior manager, said the agency and AT had just released 30-year plans for northwest transport and infrastructure developments.
"The plans include a rapid transit line. While further work needs to be undertaken on the business case for a rapid transit line, short-term improvements to support public transport in the area are underway," Reid said.