The old Fay Richwhite building at the corner of Wyndham and Queen Sts is called The SAP Tower these days.

The name seems strangely appropriate given the easy victory, the current owners, Robert Jones Holdings Ltd (RJH) have scored over Auckland Council in ridding themselves of the in-house public toilets.

RJH took the council planners for a bunch of saps and were not disappointed. The bureaucrats have agreed to the removal of the 24-hour public toilets abutting Wyndham St, and to the closure of the public walkway through the building — both without any public consultation.

The applicant said that both the toilets and walkway "currently experience antisocial or unsavoury use" and argued that as "no persons are considered to be adversely affected" by their closure, the application should be ticked through in secret.


Karen Long, Auckland Council's team leader, resource consents agreed "there will not be any public interest" in either closure and signed it off on December 5 last year.

I beg to differ. Not working in the old Herald building next door these days, I've only just caught up with this news, but we older chaps take the disappearance of any public lavatory rather seriously.

Especially when I recall the toilet in question was supposed to serve the public for at least 50 years, as part of a deal signed off by Planning Judge David Sheppard on November 24, 1988. By my reckoning, it had another 20 years to go.

Back in the mid-1980s I had great sport following the twists and turns of the erection of this great monument to the excesses of that period. My files tell a rather different story from the one the council is now relying on.

Their prime text seems to be the 1985 resource consent document, which, Ian Smallburn general manager resource consents, tells me "did not go so far as to say that the toilets had to be retained in perpetuity".

True, but that document was a mere starting point, documenting the bankers' initial promises to provide public facilities such as a children's creche, a public swimming pool and tennis courts — none of which eventuated — all to gain several bonus floors of space. The story was in how the details kept changing.

The public toilets were one bonus promise that did survive though, not through altruism on the part of developers Foenus Investments, but because the true mission was to rid themselves of the underground public toilet block next door, which, the bankers felt, ruined the neighbourhood.

It was two years after the resource consent was issued that Foenus showed its hand with a letter from Bell Gully lawyers to the council requesting it "remove the old public lavatory from the Wyndham St footpath and in return the owner [Foenus] construct a first-class modern male and female public lavatory ["the facility"] in the building with direct access from Wyndham St".


Council would have to service the facility, pay all the running costs and promise to clean and disinfect it twice a day, and not to sublet it. All heart, the owners would "remit rental on the facility".

After months of haggling over permanence, in October 1987, I reported that the council had got its way, and the agreement would be good for 50 years.

Further, if the building was pulled down before that, the owners would pay to construct a new public lavatory at the council's direction. The existing historic toilets were duly demolished.

A year later, as part of a convoluted deal to escape its commitment to provide the creche, Foenus agreed by way of compensation, to enlarge the new ground floor toilets, provide new public toilets and restroom facilities on the eighth floor public plaza, and expand the public pedestrian network through the building.

These details were duly signed off by Judge Sheppard, in a document that can be found online.

Now maybe I'm being naive and it's true, the solemn commitments entered into in the mid-1980s involving eminent law firms and bankers and Auckland City are as ephemeral as a piece of dunny paper.

But as the aggrieved party, I would have at least expected Auckland Council to have put up a fight on behalf of this public amenity. Not to have surrendered in secret.