SkyCity has a regional bus terminal it doesn't want. Auckland Council and Auckland Transport have been trying to help them get rid of it, by finding somewhere else it could go.
They tried Manukau, but the idea of ending the Intercity service 20km short of the centre of the city didn't wash. It was a plan for the convenience of city planners, regardless of the extra cost or inconvenience it would mean for passengers.
Now they've come up with a new plan: stick it on Māori land! What could possibly go wrong?
First, SkyCity. When it applied for a consent to build a casino on its Hobson St site, back in the 1990s, part of the land was already designated as a bus terminal. The consent stipulated – still stipulates – that for as long as SkyCity operates a casino on the site, it must provide a bus terminal.
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Auckland City Council backed that up with a requirement the company operate and maintain public transport facilities there for 999 years. The regional bus terminal, tucked into the side of the main SkyCity building on Hobson St, has been servicing InterCity passengers since 1996.
But SkyCity doesn't want it. Buses don't fit its "brand" as a purveyor of sophisticated entertainments (yes, add your own air quotes) and they certainly aren't aimed at the people it expects to flock to the new convention centre when it opens just over the road. The bus terminal is not shown in SkyCity's visuals for the future of the precinct.
In 2014 Auckland Council buckled, and Auckland Transport started looking for a new site.
SkyCity's then CEO, Nigel Morrison, said put it in Britomart with all the other buses.
Matthew Cockram, CEO of Britomart developer Cooper and Co, said not on your nelly.
SkyCity is missing a trick here. The terminal is drab and dreary, but that's because it was designed to look that way. The tower is great but, at ground level, almost the whole building is drab and dreary: it makes a terrible contribution to the urban landscape.
Neither the building nor the terminal itself have to be like that. SkyCity has done some things to improve its façade on Federal St, with living pillars of greenery, wooden panelling, planters and a smart colour scheme. It could do far more, especially if it joined with the council to stop the street being used as a rat run.
And just think what it could do on Hobson St, which will get a facelift anyway, courtesy of the conference centre. Around the world public transport terminals are being reimagined as decent public spaces.
It's an approach long understood for railway stations, many of which are magnificent pieces of public architecture. The Britomart station is one example; the new stations on the City Rail Link will be three more: their designs are remarkably beautiful.
Why not conceive of an intercity bus terminal in that way? After all, it's a reasonable bet the future will involve more, and better, public transport. SkyCity, with council support, could embrace that notion.
Next, the new Auckland Transport plan, which is to convert a carpark area it uses on Beach Rd. That might seem tempting. As Quay St slowly converts to mixed use, the parallel Beach Rd will become more important to road transport.
AT has a long-term lease on the land, so legally it's probably able to do this.
But the land in question belongs to Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei. And the iwi has its own plans.
As revealed by spokesman Ngarimu Blair in this paper in December, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei has been working with architectural firm Warren and Mahoney and others to develop a big renewal project for the entire area of eastern Quay St, much of which is known as Quay Park.
The project includes all the land the iwi owns on the south side of Quay St, including the Spark Arena land, as well as the reclaimed land north of Quay St, from Bledisloe Wharf east, currently occupied by Ports of Auckland.
The project is called Te Toangaroa and, in a staged process over many years, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei intends to make it a reality. There are some pretty exciting components, including beaches in a lagoon with an enclosed swimming pool. That part of it is on port land.
Another component is a large recessed garden area designed to act as both a recreational park and a biodiversity centre. That's on iwi land on the city side of Quay St, which possibly means it could be developed quite soon.
"We have a clear plan for the long-term use of our land at Quay Park," says Andrew Crocker, head of the iwi's commercial arm, Whai Rawa.
"A bus terminal is not aligned with that plan and it would not fit with our environmental goals for the site."
True that. The land AT wants for the terminal is out front of the old railway station and is designated in Te Toangaroa as an open space for markets.
Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei's proposals are compromised by the AT proposal. For that matter, so are the bold plans for the same area put forward in 2018 by Archimedia. And there's the Crater proposal: the sunken stadium suggested for just west of Bledisloe Wharf.
The question is this: will Auckland Council take any notice of any of these plans? Or is it just going to let Auckland Transport build a new bus terminal there, in much the same way it stood by while Ports of Auckland built its multi-storey car storage building on Quay St?
Piecemeal solutions, a lack of vision, even as various groups wave exciting ideas in front of them, desperately trying to catch their attention. Don't the iwi at least, as the landowners and as the possessors of some pretty cool ideas, deserve a proper hearing? Actually, don't they all?
In practical terms, there's a related issue at stake: where should all the buses go anyway?
Auckland Transport's most recent published plan was to put half of the commuter buses on lower Albert St, which is still happening, and to build a bus terminal for the other half on Quay St. That's not happening.
That new terminal would have stretched from Commerce St east to Britomart Place: the double-block strip from the current roadworks as far as the intersection with the Les Mills gym on the corner.
The plan was ditched when too many people pointed out they would likely ruin the potential to beautify that stretch of Quay St. It is, after all, part of the downtown waterfront edge.
No new plan has been forthcoming. Understandably so: it's not easy. Downtown Auckland will have buses pouring into it for years, and they have to go somewhere. I'm sure AT would welcome any helpful suggestions. They like public engagement.
But as the pressure builds, there's one thing that absolutely should not be happening: ad hoc approval of one facility after another, while larger, better plans they might compromise remain ignored.