A letter sent to Auckland mayor Phil Goff by a QC employed by Queen St businesses has called for immediate removal of "unsightly and third world changes" to the streetscape in the name of a pedestrian trial.
The Herald has been given a June 18 letter from Auckland QC barrister Derek Nolan, which launches into a scathing list of criticisms of the aesthetic and legal issues with the Covid-19 barriers.
The plastic pylons dug into the asphalt along the largest shopping strip in the country have reduced Queen St to one lane each way indefinitely for the $2 million Access for Everyone pedestrian trial.
Many barriers in the street lie broken on the road as the council swaps them with concrete blocks.
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The building owners who employed QC Nolan to serve the legal letter pulled no punches in their comments on the decision to keep the Covid-19 barriers in place without any consultation with them.
"The purpose of this letter is to formally request the Council to direct the removal of the Covid19 works urgently and to restore Queen Street," Nolan writes to Goff.
"They and many other building owners and retailers are appalled at what they describe as unsightly and 'Third World' changes made to Queen St by Auckland Transport during Covid19, without consultation and which AT has since failed to remove.
The works have "drastically reduced the amenity and safety on Queen Street" the letter points out.
"The works are ugly and said by some retailers to be a disgrace; the new 'footpaths' are not used by pedestrians; they are a trip hazard as they are at a lower level than the formed footpaths; buses now completely block all traffic," the letter says.
It also accuses Auckland Transport (AT) of breaching Item 82 of the Local Government Act 2002. which details the "principles of consultation" and AT's failure to allow "persons who will or may be affected by" a decision oto ffer their views.
The Queen St business owners behind the QC letter claim, ultimately, "all this has worsened an already poor economic situation for many retailers".
The Herald spoke to a handful of other Queen St businesses this week who all agreed the Covid barriers - and pedestrian trial broadly - was undesirable as they tried to get back on their feet in the post-lockdown environment.
Heart of the City (HOTC) surveyed Queen St outlets late last month and found 79 per cent wanted the barriers gone.
Goff's office said he could not directly respond to the specific points of the letter this week while "in the middle of key deliberations" finalising Auckland Council's Covid-19 emergency budget.
However, legal notices and letters served to the mayorare referred to the legal department for response.
Auckland Council chief of strategy Megan Tyler said the temporary Covid-19 works on the northern end of Queen St were being improved in response to observed use and feedback from businesses and residents. "This includes replacing a portion of the plastic sticks between Shortland St and Customs St with pre-cast traffic islands, and painting extended pedestrian areas to make the purpose of the spaces clearer for users."
Poor weather this week held up the process.
The Queen Street Valley A4E pilot was planned to be under way by March next year. But Tyler said the emergency Covid-19 infrastructure installed on Queen St to enable physical distancing was an opportunity to bring the pilot forward.
But the building owners who employed Noland, and the four other businesses spoken to by the Herald, were perhaps most annoyed by what they say was a complete lack of consultation with them by the council or AT to keep the barriers in place.
They stressed they were not opposed to a more pedestrian friendly Queen St, but had not been consulted about keeping the Covid-19 barriers, which the said made the street ugly and confusing.
Hallenstein Glasson Holdings GM Mary Devine said they have resorted to corresponding with HOTC chief executive Viv Beck to just "have a conversation" indirectly with AT and the council.
"Obviously after lockdown retailers getting back on their feet in inner city Queen St has been challenging because there's been a lack of general foot traffic, lack of workers and foot traffic, students and so forth," Devine said.
"With those balustrades remaining it's just not necessarily a pleasant environment, and conducive for people coming into Queen St."
Anne Mazer has owned clothing stores Great Kiwi Yarns and the Country Collection on downtown Queen St since 2017.
The retailer moved to New Zealand from France 11 years ago and said a major Paris street, for example, would never be reduced to a plastic minefield.
"We don't understand these yellow plastic cones, barriers. When you think of Champs-Elysees, you think Paris, Eiffel Tower, but you don't think yellow plastic cones," Mazer said.
"This would never happen for the major streets of the country. It's the same thing for Broadway in New York.
"We just want to be consulted and know their vision. What is the project because we actually have no idea.
"It's really simple from the retailers in Queen St. We just want people to enjoy it. It has to be the most beautiful street of Auckland and we just want the renovation that needs to be done and we understand that."
The mayor's office said Goff has met HOTC's Beck twice since late May to discuss Queen St. Two other Auckland councillors have reportedly met Beck also, and council staff have offered to discuss the proposed changes.
Beck has maintained HOTC was allowed no input into the co-design process for the look of the pedestrian trial, nor the decision to keep the barriers after lockdown.