Queen St property owners, lawyers, retail traders and architects have banded together to legally demand Auckland Council remove the "hideous" pedestrianisation barriers they say have destroyed businesses and livelihoods.
Mayor Phil Goff and the 20 elected Auckland councillors will be sent judicial review proceedings by a new incorporated society of 11 committee members who own more than a dozen skyscrapers along the once grandest shopping strip in New Zealand.
Their grievance is the Queen St Access For Everyone pedestrianisation pilot, which has reduced the previously four-lane CBD thoroughfare to two lanes with a series of plastic pylons and 300kg concrete blocks.
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.
Among them are: 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.
They want the pedestrianisation barriers ripped out immediately and Queen St restored to its pre-2020 condition.
NZ Order of Merit recipient Bruce Sheppard says he has operated an accounting firm on the fourth floor above Smith and Caughey's since 1985 and has never seen Queen St in a worse state.
"The city has never been in such a skanky, derelict condition in my lifetime. It makes me ashamed to be an Aucklander that we have allowed our CBD to be degraded to the extent it has," Sheppard said.
"It is dangerous for pedestrians. It is dangerous for cyclists. The concrete blocks, the funny little sticks, the raised-up bus stops. It's one lane with buses that you can't get past. It is just bedlam. It has to be fixed or our city is going to die. You walk along Queen St, what would it be now, 25 per cent of retail empty? If they [council] want to kill a CBD they're doing a bloody good job of it."
The Save the Queen Street group intends to send a legal letter to Auckland Council in the coming weeks making a straightforward request for the barriers be removed as soon as possible.
Sheppard says if a workable solution is not then presented by council, "we'll take legal action, for sure".
The committee has engaged barristers, and legal action will take the form of a judicial review of the processes that allowed the barriers to be installed in the street by examining resource consent and their safety.
From there, a class action could be taken against the council by affected parties in the form of damages claims.
Goff would not comment on the prospect of legal action by the Save the Queen Street committee, or his willingness to enter into any sort of negotiation.
He indicated to the Herald that the council was not considering removing the barriers but rather staged improvements at the northern end of Queen St would begin soon.
"This would involve the removal of existing Covid-19 emergency works to make way for the construction of quality, temporary footpaths, planting and amenity improvements," Goff said.
"I look forward to seeing construction start as early as possible that will replace the temporary measures with a streetscape on Queen St that is well-designed, people-friendly and environmentally attractive."
The Queen St access for everyone trial was officially implemented in June 2020, but in reality it rolled over Covid-19 social distancing barriers 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.
The council claimed it would be a waste of money to rip the barriers up to reinstall something similar in a year's time.
Andrew Krukziener has ownership interests in three Queen St buildings and has sat in on the three co-design sessions the council has run over the past year to improve the aesthetics of the barriers.
He describes the process as a "charade".
"How did this happen? It was an ideological decision by [councillors] Chris Darby, Pippa Coom and Phil Goff as a way of basically taking the street from the people and turning it into a bus lane," Krukziener said.
"It was a deliberate subterfuge to use the Covid emergency powers to do these works and then to leave it there as a land grab, without consultation, without proper commercial investigation, without the due process they should have gone through.
"Because, under normal circumstances, they can't just go and do that without a whole lot of consultation and investigation.
"This thing has been decimating the street for a year. It'll take five years to recover - how long do you sit there and watch the council behave so incredibly stupidly?"
Four of the Save Queen St 11-member committee are building owners, but Krukziener said the committee was selected to represent Aucklanders' broad interests, and there are a variety of professionals and concerned citizens among them.
These include Shortland Chambers QC lawyer Adam Ross and former Unitech head of architecture Tony van Raat.
Research and groundwork for the impending legal action has included talking to more than 100 retail owners and tenants, as well as delivery, Uber and taxi drivers.
Krukziener says not one of them had positive things to say about the barriers.
"Our proposal is very simple, return Queen St to as it was December 2019 pre-Covid, because it wasn't broken," he said.
"It wasn't the best street in the world, but it wasn't the worst. Now it is. You've gone from a street that was functioning perfectly well, functioning buses, Ubers, deliveries, parking, shops, pedestrians, no problem, to a disaster where everybody is up in arms."
Architect Tony van Raat says he "feels some sympathy" for the council given the lack of funds at its disposal, but the pedestrianisation trial needed to "start from scratch".
"No one, I think, would disagree that we need to exclude traffic from some parts of Queen St, we need to calm the traffic in other areas, we need to pedestrianise some parts. That's absolutely true," van Raat said.
"But with what's happening now, Queen Street is actually very hard to negotiate. It's full of garish colours and cones and bits of concrete. It doesn't look good. A lot of businesses feel they're haemorrhaging money not just because of Covid but because Queen St is not as attractive as it needs to be."
Van Raat says architecture firms would be "desperate" to design a Queen St pedestrianisation project and it would attract international competition.
"Everybody wants on their CV the fact that they've redesigned the main street of Auckland. A lot of people would be interested in a job like that. It's a prime project for anybody to win."
Among "Save the Queen" allies is Auckland central business association Heart of the City. Chief executive Viv Beck says they agree the pedestrianisation trial needs to start from scratch again.
"It's nearly been a year and we've had ongoing complaints from many different people," Beck said.
"Queen St is too important to get wrong. We haven't seen a great outcome from the work they've done in the last year. Unless there is a major change of heart in council very, very quickly and a desire to get an outcome quickly we cannot leave it like it is for many more months.
"That's our point to council - this is a time that our businesses needed their support and there has to be stronger leadership to support the recovery of the city centre."