There are growing fears that three of Auckland's showcase new urban design projects will not be ready in time for the America's Cup in March 2021. Pressure on the consenting process is the main cause.
The three projects are a new footbridge connecting the Viaduct with Wynyard Quarter, a big pedestrian plaza at the west end of Quay St, by the ferry basin, and a new pedestrian plaza round the corner from that, in front of Britomart Station.
The news on all three projects was delivered to a meeting of Auckland Council's finance and performance committee yesterday by Barry Potter, the council's director of infrastructure and environmental services.
Mayor Phil Goff told the Herald the news was "disappointing".
Potter told the committee, which includes all councillors and the mayor, that the new bridge is "most unlikely" to be ready in time. He said a final decision will be made in August.
If it is delayed, Potter said, there will be further remedial work to the existing bridge. It's possible temporary extra capacity will be added "in some way".
The bridge project is in the hands of Panuku, the council's "place-making" development agency.
The existing bridge was built for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, at a cost of $3.7 million. A longer-lasting design was rejected at the time as being too expensive.
In April this year, Panuku's director of development, Allan Young, said the existing bridge was "reaching the end of its useful life and needs frequent and costly repairs to keep it running smoothly". It is used by 13,000 pedestrians and 750 cyclists a day.
With the growth of residential and commercial activity in Wynyard Quarter, those numbers are growing fast, and are expected to be very much higher during the America's Cup campaign.
As the Herald reported in April, the new bridge has a budget of $25.7 million and will be 6m wide, compared to the current 4.4m. Like the existing one, it will be a "bascule bridge", made to open so boats can pass through.
Young described its "double-leaf" design as "a beautiful structure reminiscent of modern masts or the wings of a large seabird". It was expected the bridge would be a showcase project for the new Auckland.
Asked about the project yesterday, Young was a little more reticent than Potter.
He said the August decision on whether to delay will be based on "whether we can achieve the replacement within time and budget with minimal disruption to the area, bearing in mind there is a lot of work going on down in Wynyard Quarter at the moment that we would need to work around".
The second project is the proposed pedestrian plaza by the ferry basin, currently called the "Downtown Public Space". Potter told the council it would probably not be ready in time for the America's Cup either.
The Herald understands council agencies have been in protracted discussions with commercial entities that claim an interest in the project. This has held up preparations of the consent application.
The consent has only recently been lodged, and the council may still fear it will be subjected to a lengthy appeals process.
This Downtown Public Space involves reducing vehicular traffic on that part of Quay St to one lane, adding many more trees, seating, bike lanes and a wide plaza that extends over part of the ferry basin.
Like Te Wero bridge, it was intended as a showcase project for the city at the time of the America's Cup.
However, Auckland Transport, which is in charge of this project, has denied there is a delay. Mark Hannan, AT's media relations manager, told the Herald, "There is no suggestion at this time that the Downtown Public Space will not be completed before the America's Cup."
He added, "We still have 18 months to go with the Downtown Programme and it is simply a bit too early to be speculating that outcomes will not be delivered."
Hannan suggested Potter had advised the council only that "in the event that there is slippage to the delivery programme" the work would need to be done after the America's Cup.
This is at odds with what Potter told the council and later confirmed to the Herald. The plaza was "unlikely" to proceed in time, he said. The process of preparing consents had "taken much longer" than expected.
The existing roadworks on Quay St are a precursor to this project, but they are related to underground infrastructure services. They are not part of the redesigned roadway and plaza as such.
The third project is the area in front of Britomart station formerly known as Queen Elizabeth Square.
That square is the responsibility of Precinct Properties, which is building the enormous Commercial Bay project along its western side. Most of it will be ready, but because Commercial Bay itself has been extensively delayed, the plaza cannot be finished before the America's Cup either.
The solution will be to erect what Potter called a "high quality" barrier between the finished part of the plaza and the unfinished part of the Commercial Bay construction site. He suggested it might be "a green wall or something of that calibre".
The pedestrianised square will still be functional, and largely finished, but during the America's Cup it will not open to the food halls and shopping of Commercial Bay as originally intended.
Mayor Goff describes the projects as "not critical" to delivering the America's Cup or APEC, also scheduled for Auckland in 2021.
The Herald asked if he accepted they were supposed to be important to the way Auckland presented itself to the world at a time when the international spotlight will be on the city.
He said, "Does it mean we can't present the shiny new face we would have liked? Yes."
But, he added, they will happen anyway. "They are critical infrastructure and if it turns out we get them after the America's Cup, that's fine with me".
He said Barry Potter had advised the council that work on the America's Cup bases, in Wynyard Quarter, is not affected by delays. "That will definitely be ready in time, and that's the most important thing."
Using the Cup to transform the inner city and downtown area also used to be considered important. But few other projects will be ready in time.
The "linear park" to be built along Victoria St will not happen for at least five years. Disruption from the CRL will still be significant. Proposals to pedestrianise Queen St and other parts of the inner city are no further forward.