Key Points:

Transit NZ is being urged to rethink the entry point of a $330 million tunnel through Victoria Park in Auckland, to allow space for an appealing western gateway to the city centre.

Auckland City's environmental, heritage and urban form committee has welcomed an architect's proposal which would require Transit to push the mouth of its future motorway tunnel further south, to make the historic Birdcage Tavern the dominant feature of a public plaza on top.

It has called for a staff report on the proposal by Richard Reid, whose work has included redesigning part of Transit's motorway extension of State Highway 20.

Mr Reid fears Transit's plan to move the 19th-century Birdcage 40m up Franklin Rd will result in it being tucked behind an unsightly screen beside the tunnel's southern portal.

He has proposed moving the two-storey brick building back to its original site, above the "cut and cover" tunnel's lid, to make it a focal point for the Freemans Bay community and part of a defining gateway to Auckland's central business district.

Although Transit fears pushing the portal further south may make the entry to the 400m tunnel too steep to give trucks enough headroom, Mr Reid says he is asking for a relocation of only about 10m.

Transit wants the one-way northbound tunnel built by 2013 to clear one of the country's worst motorway chokepoints. Although it has said the existing motorway viaduct over Victoria Park could be kept for southbound traffic for up to 30 more years, the Auckland city and regional councils want it replaced with a duplicate tunnel well before then.

Mr Reid told the city councillors that planning commissioners, who accepted at a hearing last year that the Birdcage should be moved away from the viaduct, did not have the benefit of any visual representation of what the area would look like.

He showed the council committee visual depictions, modelled on what he said was Transit's own documents, of what the area may look like with and without the portal being altered.

Several councillors spoke in favour of the proposal, and none opposed it.

Glenda Fryer challenged Transit to win itself accolades for "thinking beyond the square and supporting this great initiative" which, she expected, would capture the imagination of Aucklanders.

Transit regional transportation manager Tommy Parker said it had always been his organisation's intention to provide a high-quality landscape with maximum urban design opportunities around the Birdcage and the wider tunnel project.

Although it was too early to rule anything out while a specimen design was being prepared, he believed it would be very difficult to move the Birdcage back to its existing position, given a need to relocate a sewer line as well as minimise the tunnel gradient.

121 YEARS OF GOOD TIMES

Auckland's distinctive red-brick Birdcage Tavern has dispensed hospitality on the corner of Franklin Rd and Victoria St West since 1886, when it opened as the Rob Roy Hotel in the heart of working-class Freemans Bay.

A clearance of only about 3m was left between the two-storey tavern's upper level and the Victoria Park motorway viaduct when that structure was built in the 1960s.

Transit NZ bought the Birdcage under the Public Works Act in 2002 to make way for a duplicate viaduct, but has decided since to dig a northbound "cut and cover" tunnel through the site instead, under pressure from Auckland councils and community leaders.

It intends moving the tavern about 40m up Franklin Rd when it begins the $330 million project in 2009.

A final plan for shifting the tavern - which is still pouring ales under a lease from Transit - must be approved by the Historic Places Trust, and Auckland City Council must be satisfied with open-space provisions in front of the building and between the tunnel mouth and Franklin Rd.