The Queen St pedestrianisation "plastic sticks" which two weeks ago led to a legal threat from property owners and businesses will soon be gone and replaced with boardwalks, seating and native plants.
The Auckland Council today announced it would be implementing a $1.1 million "makeover" trial of the Covid-19 works that have reduced the four-lane CBD thoroughfare to two lanes since April last year.
Announcing the trial, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff admitted the street needed to be "more people-friendly and attractive" and the new makeover "won't solve all the problems" of the retail slump of 2020.
"Last year, temporary measures were put in place by Auckland Transport to allow physical distancing during the pandemic. It's now time for the yellow markers, stone blocks and painted asphalt to be replaced," Goff said.
"Extended decking pavements, similar to those on High Street, trees and shrubs in proper planter boxes and decent street furniture will help change the look and feel of the area. These measures will be trialled before permanent changes are made once we receive feedback from businesses, shoppers, visitors and residents."
The makeover construction will begin in early May and include a pocket park on the corner of Queen St and Fort St.
The Herald has also obtained an AT report on the proposed changes that reveals the Queen St pedestrianisation transformation will have several phases lasting until 2024.
The phase 1 "trial" changes announced today will extend from Customs to Shortland St, including Fort St, and be in place until at least September 2021.
Public feedback is also being sought on a proposal to create bus lanes on sections of Queen St which would restrict the street to two to four lanes of bus-only traffic.
The council says the bus lanes will improve reliability while more buses are temporarily using the street during the next phase of City Rail Link (CRL) construction.
On April 3, the Herald reported an incorporated society which owns more than a dozen skyscrapers along Queen St would be sending Goff and the 20 Auckland councillors judicial review proceedings demanding the removal of the "hideous" pedestrianisation barriers.
The "Save the Queen Street" committee members include some heavy hitters in the Auckland business world and sit at the executive level of companies worth billions of dollars.
Among them are Hallensteins Glasson fashion chain director Tim Glasson, NZ Shareholders Association founder Bruce Sheppard, property investor Andrew Krukziener and former Vector and Watercare chairman Michael Stiassny.
"I think it's an unrealistically pretty picture," Krukziener said of today's Queen St makeover proposal.
"It's certainly going to be visually better than what is there but it will still have the fundamental problem they [council] have not addressed. The fundamental problem is the lack of loading, the lack of bus stops and the lack of ability for people to stop for five minutes to pick up something.
"You need to be able to drop off and pick up things. So many of these shops have been there for 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years operating in that easy way and you can't just unilaterally take away all of that amenity parking. They're driving those businesses to run away to other places where there is some parking available."
Auckland Council director of infrastructure Barry Potter met with Krukziener on Monday this week to brief him on the changes announced today.
Krukziener, who has ownership stakes in three Queen St buildings, says the Save the Queen St incorporated society will respond formally to the changes council has put forward.
The council has appointed construction company JFC to do the phase 1 makeover trial.
The deck-infill footpaths will be made of composite timber on an aluminium modular sub-frame. There will be hardwood timber street furniture.
Councillor Chris Darby, chairman of the planning committee, said the initial changes were just the beginning of the staged transformation of Queen St.
"We recognise that the past 12 months have been financially tough and we are working hard with business and the residential community to create a Queen St that glows again," Darby said.
"The pandemic certainly took the shine off Queen St, with the absence of international tourists and students spilling out of hotels and apartments."
Darby said the phase 1 changes would be backed up by "events and ideas to stimulate interest and activity in the newly-created environments".
Bus network changes
It is proposed the bus network changes will be in place for the reopening of the Wellesley/Albert St intersection and the closure of the Victoria/Albert St intersection in mid-2021.
The council said the changes would improve bus reliability while more buses are temporarily using the street during the next phase of City Rail Link (CRL) construction.
Two sections of bus lane are proposed in the first stage: between Customs and Shortland St, northbound only, on a part-time basis (peak only times) and between Mayoral Dr and Wakefield St, northbound only, 24 hours a day.
In the second stage, when Victoria St is closed for CRL construction, an additional two-way, 24/7 bus lane will be added between Wellesley St and Wakefield St.
Auckland Transport Service network development manager Pete Moth said "more buses will temporarily use Queen Street as a result of disruption from the CRL project".
"However, by the end of April, the CityLink fleet will be fully electrified. This will mean more than 50 per cent of buses using Queen St by mid-2021 will be electric."
Consultation with Aucklanders on the proposed network changes for Queen St begins on Monday, April 19.
The Save the Queen St challenge
The Save the Queen Street incorporated society had intended to send a legal letter to the Auckland Council in the coming weeks making a straightforward request for the barriers to be removed as soon as possible.
It will now respond to the makeover proposal, but Save the Queen Street member Andrew Krukziener said today its position had not fundamentally changed.
NZ Order of Merit recipient Bruce Sheppard said he has operated an accounting firm on the fourth floor above Smith and Caughey's since 1985 and has never seen Queen St in a worse state.
"The city has never been in such a skanky, derelict condition in my lifetime. It makes me ashamed to be an Aucklander that we have allowed our CBD to be degraded to the extent it has," Sheppard said.
"It is dangerous for pedestrians. It is dangerous for cyclists. The concrete blocks, the funny little sticks, the raised-up bus stops. It's one lane with buses that you can't get past. It is just bedlam. It has to be fixed or our city is going to die. You walk along Queen St, what would it be now, 25 per cent of retail empty? If they [council] want to kill a CBD they're doing a bloody good job of it."
Sheppard had said if a workable solution was not then presented by the council, "we'll take legal action, for sure".
The committee had engaged barristers, and legal action would take the form of a judicial review of the processes that allowed the barriers to be installed in the street by examining resource consent and their safety.
The Queen St access for everyone trial was officially implemented in June 2020, but in reality it rolled over Covid-19 social distancing barriers installed during the March-April lockdown that year.
When the plastic pylon barriers were first installed by Auckland Transport, Queen St businesses and stakeholders had been assured they were only temporary.
But the Auckland Council used the barriers as a platform to fast-track a Queen St pedestrianisation trial that had been scheduled to be implemented in 2021.
The council claimed it would be a waste of money to rip the barriers up to reinstall something similar in a year's time.
Four of the Save Queen Street 11-member committee are building owners, but Krukziener said the committee was selected to represent Aucklanders' broad interests, and there were a variety of professionals and concerned citizens among them.
These include Shortland Chambers QC lawyer Adam Ross and former Unitech head of architecture Tony van Raat.