Barry Potter says all Aucklanders should be very proud of the massive redevelopment that is transforming the Downtown CBD and inner harbour.
"I want to acknowledge the patience that Aucklanders have had through the works that are being done. You can't do the kind of scale of work, change that's been achieved without disruption.
"The solutions down there will be truly transformational when they open up over the next couple of months," says Potter, who is the leading engineer in charge of the massive re-development of Auckland's City centre.
"This is an area that Aucklanders will be proud of bringing people to the waterfront down there. And something we should all celebrate.
Potter has had a challenging year keeping all the myriad projects now coming to completion on track following Covid disruptions.
They are all substantially done — 85 per cent complete, according to Auckland Council.
"In the early days, there was quite a bit of concern around the ability to work during level 4," Potter recalls. "All the construction sites were shut down. There was lots of uncertainty about bringing people into the country, particularly impacting projects like the City Rail Link (CRL).
"We had to change the way that people operated and have teams within bubbles to make sure everyone was safe. A lot of thought went into that, to manage that process.
"The outcome is that these projects are delivered, in spite of the challenges along the way ... and on time and on budget.
"One of the reasons for that is that the construction sector was able to take advantage of having fewer people in the city."
As Auckland Council's Director of Infrastructure and Environmental Services, Potter's role is to deliver on the Council's ambition to transform the city centre, put people at its heart and create a greener, safer, and better-connected city centre.
The major works under way right across Downtown and beyond resulted in Auckland being dubbed the "city of cones, cranes and congestion".
Asked by the Herald when Aucklanders might expect to see their city lose that moniker, Potter laughes and he replies: "Stop being the City of Cones!
"The cones might swap places. Is that acceptable?"
Auckland is certainly preparing to shake off a rather dowdy image. The city that is emerging as the works wind down is sophisticated; an international city with first-class and stylish new office buildings. But also improved access, enhanced public spaces, cleaner air and a strong Māori identity which Potter says will make the centre welcoming and vibrant.
"Some of the works are extraordinarily complex, and we didn't know what was there until we started," he recalls. "The seawall was one of those. It was a seismic risk. The impact of that on Quay St if there was a minor earthquake ... that risk is now gone."
Potter says his highlight was the engagement that happened with mana whenua and the real richness of outcomes that have been achieved.
Auckland Council worked alongside 19 mana whenua to deliver unique designs through an acknowledgement of te ao Māori. A design partnership was formed for the Te Wānanga public space project that expresses mana whenua identity, culture, histories and aspirations for the future. The name reflects a mana whenua aspiration that the space will be an area where people can come together, to learn and to exchange ideas and kōrero about Tāmaki Makaurau. The name of the new Downtown Square — Te Komititanga — was gifted by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei and City Rail Link's Mana Whenua Forum. Te Komititanga — means "to mix" or "to merge" in te reo Māori.
As well as the mixing of people, the name reflects the square's location where the waters of the Waitematā and Wai Horotiu, the stream that runs under Queen St into the harbour, merge.
Eight iwi from the Auckland region were involved in the design of the new CRL stations. Hero Potini — kaitiaki for Ngāti Tamaoho — says, "The stations share those deeper stories that you don't get anywhere else in the country, let alone the world. We as mana whenua, right from the get-go, came together, each tribe with their own mana, to express their Kaitiaki Taonga individually."
Says Potter: "These facilities that are now complete, or about to be complete, pay tribute to the deeper history of Māori rather than our European history, bringing designs and concepts that make these unique in the world.
"It's been a wonderful experience."
Another highlight for Potter has been the deep collaboration between all involved parties to achieve outcomes. "I talked about mana whenua, but these are complex projects, and the interaction between City Rail Link, Panuku, Auckland Transport, Council, businesses like Precinct Properties, Viaduct Holdings, Cooper & Company, the construction firms and designers, has worked really well."
All the America's Cup infrastructure is done, including a wharf extension, and the tanks have just about gone from Wynyard Point. "They've not all gone, there's a couple left that are about to go."
The downtown public space Te Wānanga and the Ferry Basin substantially open up in May and the public will be able to use the ferries in the middle of the year.
All the Queen St enhancement works will be completed in May.
There's plenty more on Potter's agenda (see table). The Wellesley St bus improvements will be developed progressively. Once that street opens back up, Victoria St will close and construction of the Victoria St Linear Park will get under way.
The contract for the Federal St upgrade behind St Matthew's church has been let. The Myers Park underpass upgrade will start shortly.
Potter acknowledges the persistent controversy over Queen St where many Aucklanders have complained about the lack of access for parking.
"Look, I have to acknowledge it is controversial.
"There are so many different views on how Queen St should be done and there will be changes there in the near future, including temporary works there.
"You've got to understand that it's a pretty challenging space to work in but the process that's being followed now is international best practice.
"We have a co-designed practice that is running there at the moment. We'll be trialling different solutions; that co-design process includes mana whenua, includes the businesses and others in that area to make sure the right outcomes are achieved and more actively worked on.
"What's there at the moment is done on the back of the Covid-19 and space requirements between people and so that is a bit of a stop-gap of things happening there and changes over the next two or three months."
Potter says he is "just really chuffed" to be playing a role in the CBD's transformation.
"Apart from a few years overseas in Asia, Auckland has been my home. I feel really good to be a part of it.
He acknowledges some disappointment that Auckland is not having the influx of visitors it was expecting for the regatta.
But says it was used as a catalyst for change to get that area ready. "You're talking to a yachtie here, so I've got a vested interest in this.
"That was a catalyst for the change but that change is now moving location."
Barry Potter is Auckland Council's Director of Infrastructure and Environmental Services and in charge of the redevelopment of Downtown Auckland.
He also chairs the Auckland Council executive steering group with representatives from council's infrastructure and Environmental Services division, the Chief Planning Office, Development Programme Office, Communications, Auckland Design Office and the Mayor's Office.
Representatives from AT, Panuku, CRL, Auckland Unlimited, Ports of Auckland, and Mana Whenua Kaitiaki forum are also involved.
- Galway St enhancement: complete.
- Lower Albert St bus interchange: complete; open for Birkenhead buses.
- Quay St seismic strengthening: complete.
- Te Wānanga — all concrete pours are done, and planters installed, completion expected late-April; open to the public in May.
- Ferry Basin Redevelopment — canopies, gangways and 6 new berths installed; completion expected late April 2021; operational mid-202.1
- Quay St enhancement — most of the Quay St southern side footpath is complete and being progressively handed back to the public. Major works complete April 2021, with minor works and planting undertaken May/June.
- Te Komititanga (Downtown)
- Amey Daldy Park
- Silo Park extension
- America's Cup infrastructure
- Te Wānanga
- Ferry Basin Redevelopment
- Quay St, Karangahape Rd Enhancements
Future: Focus shifts to Midtown
- Victoria St Linear Park
- Wellesley St bus improvements
- Myers Park underpass upgrade
- CRL stations
- Federal St upgrade from Wellesley St to Mayoral Drive