A long-brewing rift between the country's largest business association and Auckland Council has blown up over the controversial Queen St "makeover" - with Heart of the City officially joining a powerful society threatening to sue city hall.
Chief executive Viv Beck said Heart of the City took the extremely difficult decision to join the 10 existing committee members of the Save the Queen Street incorporated society after what they say is years of mismanagement of the CBD by council.
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 - including Hallensteins Glasson fashion chain and Sir Bob Jones office building company.
The group is threatening to send legal proceedings to council next week if a satisfactory replacement for the "hideous" pedestrianisation barriers littering Queen St since April 2020 is not imminently found.
"This is a big deal for us, but we are actually joining up with Save the Queen. Heart of the City will join the committee," Beck said.
"That's not a decision that has been made lightly but this is not good enough and the city needs a lot better performance than this.
"We've been raising for quite a long time the need for much more coordinated planning. Just for things to be less siloed. There's a number of things we've been asking for, for a significant period of time, but this is a manifestation of all the worst of the experiences in one very important part of the city. So this is almost a tipping point for us."
Heart of the City is funded by a targeted rate for city central property owners and businesses through council's rates apparatus. Beck has sat on a city centre advisory board alongside council's elected governing body and collaborated with them on many issues.
Heart of the City represents the interests of about 10,000 businesses and property owners.
For the business association to now be part of an incorporated society planning to sue the council they work intimately with is a very public fracturing of this relationship.
Auckland Mayor Goff would not comment on the health of the relationship with Heart of the City, or Beck, and merely noted the ongoing discussions with Queen St stakeholders over the pedestrian trial "plastic sticks" on Queen St.
"Council staff have had numerous discussions with different groups regarding the future of Queen St, including residents' organisations, business owners and Heart of the City," Goff said.
"Those discussions are ongoing and will continue as we seek to make Queen St and the surrounding area a more inviting place to live, work and visit.
"I have also had discussions with Heart of the City and other organisations to discuss how best to improve the appearance of the street and resolve issues."
Last week, council announced 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.
Goff described the planned changes as: "Extended decking pavements, similar to those on High St, trees and shrubs in proper planter boxes and decent street furniture will help change the look and feel of the area."
However, Beck was not satisfied with last week's proposed makeover, stating: "The proposed plans won't cut it. It's appalling that after a year, this is what has come out."
In particular, Beck criticised the lack of dedicated bus lanes, unsafe conditions for cyclists, and totally inadequate loading bays. She also doubts the quality of the materials to be used in the $1.1 million makeover over such a large space.
"People who understand materials and city planning, there's definitely concern around it's longevity [makeover planks] - that it will look good for a little while and then what happens then?"
Queen City Law commercial law firm principal, Marcus Beveridge, said legal threats were often productive in local government and logistical disputes.
"I see it from everybody's angle but it seems to me sometimes you do need to hold a gun to people's head to make things happen. Sometime to focus the mind you do need to threaten," Beverage said.
"You don't want to alienate them [council] but she's [Beck] been banging on about this for a long time. She's probably getting nowhere. So at some stage you have to say stuff this - I'm not going to let them off the hook any more, I'm going to bring this under the spotlight and bring it to the attention.
"I'm sure [Heart of the City] members will be calling out for blood and saying this is not good enough."
Property investor Andrew Krukziener has ownership interests in three Queen St buildings and is a committee member of Save the Queen Street.
"I mean, Heart of the City represents the wider city community," Krukziener said.
"They wouldn't be joining us if they were not absolutely frustrated. They're there to represent the betterment of the city and they are so frustrated. We've all tried and failed to get some sense out of the bureaucracy of council."
The full list of the Save the Queen Street society is: Hallensteins Glasson fashion chain director Tim Glasson, NZ Shareholders Association founder Bruce Sheppard, property investor Andrew Krukziener, former Vector and Watercare chairman Michael Stiassny, hotel empire CP Group owner Prakash Pandey, children's charity Great Potentials chairwoman Dame Lesley Max, body corporate secretary for thousands of apartments Phil Lockyer, and RJ Holdings director Greg Loveridge, who oversees New Zealand's largest office building company owned by Bob Jones, Shortland Chambers QC lawyer Adam Ross and former Unitec head of architecture Tony van Raat.
Ongoing consultations between Save the Queen Street and Auckland Council have been going on for the past few weeks.
However, if no resolution can be found by the end of next week Mayor Phil Goff and the 20 elected Auckland councillors will be sent judicial review proceedings of the processes that allowed the barriers to be installed in the street.
The Queen St access for everyone trial was officially implemented in June 2020, but in reality it began after Covid-19 social distancing barriers were 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 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.