The privatisation of Queen Elizabeth Square for a commercial development is facing a legal challenge by the Auckland Architectural Association, which wants a rethink of the deal.
The association lodged an appeal in the Environment Court on Friday against the district plan change to delete the square's public open space zoning so it can be sold by the council to Precinct Properties.
The Auckland Council has agreed to sell Queen Elizabeth Square to Precinct Properties as part of a 39-level $681 million redevelopment of the Downtown Shopping Centre site.
The publicly-listed property company is due to pay $27.2 million for the 1900sq m civic space, with the proceeds going to a new or enhanced nearby public space "capable of being delivered broadly at the same time as the permanent loss of the existing space".
Association spokesman Bill McKay said the sale and development would lead to a wall of buildings nineteen metres high all along Lower Queen Street turning a potentially great civic square near the waterfront into a shady, windy canyon.
"We accept that the Square hasn't worked well, but there are many ways of getting a better public outcome than selling the whole square. For example, leading urban designers have submitted that council could sell the dark side of QE Square and keep the sunny part. That's a good outcome for all," Mr McKay said.
"It is ironic that the Auckland Architectural Association tried to stop the Air New Zealand (now HSBC) tower being built in the late 1960's because it would cast shade over Queen Elizabeth Square. No one seems to have learned anything: we're still defending Auckland's downtown public space from the shade and wind effects of private development," Mr McKay said.
He noted that Auckland Council's heavily consulted City Centre Masterplan states that Queen Elizabeth Square would be transformed into a picture postcard.
"Why do we bother creating these plans, getting public buy-in, and then turn round and flog it to the highest bidder - without any formal public feedback?"
The association's lawyer, Brianna Parkinson, said the loss of Queen Elizabeth Square to the intensification of private development would remove a significant and valuable public open space in the downtown area.
"It will exacerbate wind and shading effects on lower Queen Street, and have a significant adverse effect on the amenity of people and the historic heritage of the old CPO and Ferry buildings, with no better public spaces guaranteed," she said.
A Council spokeswoman said the Council would not comment for legal reasons.