Thursday, April 23, 2015

Challenging Steps for Downtown Auckland


This 3D view diagram of a Precinct Property proposal for the re-development of Auckland's Downtown area (which shows Queen Elizabeth Square) is included in the information being considered today, under urgency, by the Chair, Deputy Chair and another Councillor who are members of Auckland Council's Hearings Committee.


Also included in the information is this 3D diagram of how the area looks today. The Hearings Committee are asked to make decisions about the appointment of an independent commissioner who will be asked to decide whether the resource consents applied for, and that are necessary for the development, should be publicly notified. Or not. And if not, that commissioner will be expected to make decisions on those resource consents alone. (As happened with the Bledisloe Wharf extensions for example).

If the commissioner decides that the applications should be notified, then that commissioner will be joined by three more commissioners who will then make decisions after notification and related hearings of submissions.

On the face of it - looking at these diagrams which are the only information about the application contained in the report being considered today by the 3 members of the Auckland Council Hearings Committee - it looks as if all of Queen Elizabeth Square is being retained as an open space. And that its edges will be activated by the proposed development. Also that a laneway will connect Queen Elizabeth Square through to Lower Albert Street. Other features of the development that are worth knowing more about include what is proposed at the corner of Custom Street and Queen Street, and at the corner of Quay Street and Albert Street. And of course the tower. It is very large and dominating.

What this report does not say is who owns Queen Elizabeth Square. It does say that Precinct will be building car parks beneath part of Queen Elizabeth Square. That was predictable - given that the original resource consent obtained by previous owners Westfield - provided for several levels of basement parking - some of which have been lost because the Central Rail Tunnel passes beneath the tower.

A number of questions and comments arise:

1)  I note that the Authorisers and Authors of this report include the same Penny Pirrit who was part of the Auckland City Council team that granted the original non-notified consent to Westfield in 2008. (One blog about this is: Downtown Deal Plot Thickens) Also part of the team today is the same senior planner. The continuity of council planning from the bad old days of Auckland City Council is alive and well in Auckland Council today.

2)  I suspect the Auckland Council Hearings team will be delighted and relieved to see Queen Elizabeth Square untouched in the Precinct proposal. Certainly I am. But is it what it seems? Why release only this image - without also explaining and clarifying the final deal.

3)  The package of consents applied for have been divided into two chunks - above ground and below ground - all part of the same application. That makes sense. The preliminary report from Auckland Council officers advises that some of the above ground activitiesfor which consent is sought are "non-complying", and some below ground are "discretionary". With any luck you'd think a commissioner would take that, and the public interest that has been generated, as a signal that these consents should be notified.

4)  However, even if they were notified, this is clearly a Public-Private-Partnership. It is a Public-Precinct-Partnership. The applications appear to only relate to what Precinct Properties would like to do on its land, under its land, and under some public land. They don't appear to relate at all to the public part of the partnership - except in so far as there will be urban design questions about the interface between buildings and public domain.

5)  This is a very important part of the city. It is critical that the redevelopment of the block integrates with other plans and with the rest of Auckland downtown. We see none of that in this proposal which brings with it the risk of incrementalism that has blighted other parts of downtown Auckland's regeneration (Princes Wharf and that part of Quay Street are examples of this sort of incremental approach where public amenity and public space planning gets forgotten.)

6)  The risk with the Council's current approach - exemplified in its determination not to notify projects such as the artwork on Queens Wharf - is that it will only satisfy private sector needs and Council's insatiable thirst for increased revenues (from land sales, development levies and increased rates). The public's right to its city and to public spaces and places that are public and which meet the varying needs of the changing Auckland waterfront visitor demographic (families, kids, young people, pensioners .... and so on), is again at risk of being short-changed.

7)  This is a joint Downtown application. Be honest. Its Council and Precinct together. Normally I would expect a plan change. Like we saw for Wynyard Quarter. That's the honest and open and systematic way of allocating land uses and planning for public and private outcomes. There is a smell of incrementalism about this process which is disturbing. Council owes Auckland citizens an explanation and reassurance.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Queens Wharf is a Category 1 Historic Place

If you look closely at this picture of Queens Wharf you will notice that Shed 11 is still there and hasn't been dismantled to make way for the Rugby World Cup Party Central structure.

This picture is from Heritage New Zealand's website and illustrates its description of a recent historic places list entry entitled Queens Wharf, Quay Street, Auckland

Queens Wharf, "includes part of the land described as Pt Lot 37 DP 131568, North Auckland Land District, and the buildings and structures known as the Queens Wharf thereon, and their fittings and fixtures" is, since December 2010, listed as a Category 1 Historic Place. This is a recent addition to the Historic Places List which, as a matter of interest, also includes the Quay Street Historic Area (described in the listing as: "This area extends along the south side of the original settlement of Quay St East (the area east of Britomart Pl was extended and handed over to the Auckland City Council in 1914.)"). The Quay Street area was added to the Historic Places list in 1994 as a "Historic Area" and is referred to in relevant Town Planning documents.

However the Queens Wharf Category 1 Historic Places status is not referred to for example in the Operative Plan (The Auckland Regional Plan Coastal). This is likely because no plan change has occurred to incorporate the new historic place since it was listed. (Unlike Wynyard Quarter for example, where two plan changes were promulgated which have ensured character buildings and suchlike are provided for in relevant Town Planning documents.)

I was an ARC councillor at the time the debate over Queens Wharf was raging between 2008 and 2010. Many will recall the debate over whether the Sheds should be demolished or not. Shed 11 was eventually saved from demolition (it was carefully dismantled and is stored somewhere) but Shed 10 remained and has been adaptively renovated consistent with its heritage status.

One of the key documents that was commissioned during this debate was a Heritage Assessment of Queens Wharf and the Sheds which was conducted by Matthews and Matthews. You can download it here.

At the time I was mainly interested in what it had to say about the Sheds (it supported their retention). But a confidential ARC report written later, around the time Councillors were deciding on arrangements with Ports of Auckland Ltd in respect of Queens Wharf  (POAL wanted rights retained to berth ships on the long sides of Queens Wharf - but not the end - which was to be kept free for public access and enjoyment) noted that the Heritage Assessment report made a number of other specific recommendations about the wharf, in particular that views of the Harbour from Queens Wharf, and from the Harbour of Queens Wharf, had heritage status.

Specifically the Matthews and Matthews Heritage Assessment report, which is dated about August 2009, recommends:
In relation to the aesthetic values the place contributes to sensory perception through the formal qualities of its composition and setting to the site, locality, district and region: “Views from the along the centre of Queens Wharf back to Queen Street and towards the Waitemata harbour are important.” And in relation to its landmark quality, Matthews and Matthews advise: “Queens Wharf occupies a prominent position when approaching Auckland and the ferry terminals from the harbour.” (Assessment, Pgs 32,33)
The text goes on to describe the landmark significance of Queens Wharf, its structures, and relationship with the Ferry Building. It mentions other historic wharves and notes its relationship with the Britomart area.

The Matthews and Matthews report was one of the influences when the Historic Places Trust investigated Queens Wharf and made its decision to list Queens Wharf as a Category One Historic Place in December 2010 just a couple of months after the SuperCity was established.

Was this listing taken into account when the B2 and B3 wharf extension applications were processed by Auckland Council?

I note that the planning reports and officer assessments of the Ports of Auckland Ltd proposed B2 and B3 wharf extensions do consider the visual effects on Quay Street - in accordance with the Auckland Regional Plan Coastal provisions.

But there is no mention of the Historic Places Trust being treated as an affected person who should be notified because the B3 extension in particular would partly obscure this historic landmark when viewed from the sea, and would obstruct heritage views of the Harbour from Queens Wharf. Nor is there any mention of the fact that having a Category One Historic Place adjacent to the proposed POAL development might conceivably constitute a "special circumstance" triggering the need to notify the applications.

Is this another public policy that was conveniently forgotten during amalgamation and was not on the desktop when planning reports were written? Does the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan appropriately provide for this 2010 change in the planning status of Queens Wharf? If we can't rely on our Council to protect the public interest in looking after and respecting historic places, who can we trust?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Urban Auckland Inc Vs POAL and Council

Yesterday, as reported in NZ Herald this morning, Urban Auckland served notice on POAL and Auckland Council that it would shortly be issuing High Court papers challenging the resource consent process for the proposed B2 and B3 wharf extensions to Bledisloe Wharf.

The letters to the Chief Executives of POAL and Auckland Council begin:

"...Urban Auckland places you on notice that it intends shortly to issue High Court proceedings to challenge the lawfulness of the decisions made by Auckland Council to process the multiple applications by Ports of Auckland Limited (POAL) for its proposed B2 and B3 Bledisloe wharf extensions on a non-notified basis and subsequently to grant those applications...."

The letter summarises a range of errors, and states:

".... A consequence of those errors is that Council did not protect the Waitemata Harbour from the adverse effects of B2 and B3, despite this being our most iconic public domain asset, and “Auckland-defining”.... Rather than protect the Waitemata Harbour, Council has allowed POAL to take more for itself without any public input. Council should have intervened. It failed to require an integrated and holistic assessment of POAL’s expansion. That was unlawful. Council should have bundled the relevant consents together, and looked at the bigger picture. Integrated management requires nothing less. Further particulars are below...."

The full letter is available here.

And if you didn't get to attend the protest last Sunday, you can see video clips of what PJ Montgomery, Chris Dickson and Cllr Chris Darby said here.

Bus Bowls Ports Red Fence Post

Walking across Quay Street today to catch a ferry about mid-day and BANG. An AIRBUS destined for the airport I guess turned left out of Queens Wharf and took one of the red fence posts with it.

Didn't even stop.

Just as well there weren't pedestrians on the footpath.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Monday, March 2, 2015

Diagnosis and Prescription for Auckland’s Dis-ease

The waterfront bull-rush battle amongst Ports of Auckland (POAL), Auckland Council (and its family of Council-Controlled Organisations), property investors, and advocates for public space and sustainable transport, is the latest chapter in Auckland’s long history of public planning battles mocked as “the Auckland disease”: a symptom of severe growing pains, vigorous vested interests, and increasingly de-regulated public institutions.

The battle goal has remained the same: control over economic or social benefits from waterfront land reclaimed from the seabed over the last one hundred years.

By 1973 Ports of Auckland’s predecessor, Auckland Harbour Board (AHB) had reclaimed 160 hectares of Waitemata Harbour seabed adjacent to Auckland’s burgeoning central business district. Today POAL operates Auckland’s port on about 55 hectares of this land and much of the rest has been vested to Auckland City Council for public roads and streets, and to utility operators for public works like railways, bus and train stations, the central post office and gasworks.

Such uses of reclaimed seabed appear to be strongly in the public interest, however other transactions have principally benefited AHB. As Roland O’Regan, Chairman of Wellington’s Harbour Board in 1974 observed: “..some Harbour Boards seeking to protect themselves against sudden falls in income…have vested large areas of seabed in themselves so they have the power to create income earning land...”. Auckland Harbour Board persuaded Parliament to grant it some 5,000 acres of seabed in 1875, while a few years later Wellington Harbour Board only gained rights to specific seabed areas relating to specific works. O’Regan went on, “Auckland Harbour Board not only has large areas of seabed vested in it but receives $1,000,000/annum from residential rents.”

Sour grapes perhaps, but this is the basis of much of the Auckland disease, and also why Wellington’s redeveloped waterfront is much more successful as a public attraction than Auckland’s central waterfront is today, and is shaping up to be in future.

From the mid-1970’s Wellington Harbour Board and Wellington City Council entered binding agreements and generally worked together “to implement the Concept Plan to the fullest extent in its provision of open spaces and recreational facilities for the use and enjoyment of the public which would not otherwise be achievable.”

Auckland Harbour Board’s behaviour stands in stark contrast. In 1965, increasing rent potential to more than $1.4 million/annum, AHB doubled ground floor area entitlements in its plans for the Auckland Downtown site. This led to the controversial 20 storey tower now known as the HSBC building and to an unsuccessful public space named Queen Elizabeth Square. And since 1997 POAL has pocketed more than $250 million from the sale of Queens Wharf, Princes Wharf leases, Viaduct Harbour land and Wynyard Quarter.

Accounts setting out revenues that publicly-owned POAL earns from its waterfront real estate business, let alone from importing cars, and the extent to which these revenues subsidise its container handling charges, are all hidden from public scrutiny.

Things might have been different if Auckland City Council had stood up to Auckland Harbour Board when it had the opportunity, and might still be different if Auckland Council accorded proper weight to its Local Government Act duties to ratepayers. Instead both institutions stand guilty of being bought off. Auckland City Council opposed the dominating POAL supported Hilton Hotel development on Princes Wharf until it was promised a rate revenue stream from activities that would be located outside its jurisdiction above the seabed. One might have expected Auckland Council to replace Queen Elizabeth Square with equivalent green space within the city fabric, but instead wants the silver on offer to compensate Precinct for carparks lost by the CRL tunnel; is attracted by the promise of development levies and rate revenues from expanded commercial development; has made vague unbudgeted promises to free up Queens Wharf and lengthen Captain Cook for cruise ships; and offers the public a cheap deal “letting us have access” to streets and wharf spaces that we already own!

This cheap public land swap deal is especially cheap because any public money that might be paid to POAL can immediately be translated into a dividend so the Council gets its money back.

Combined with POAL’s noisy claims it can built wharf extensions to Bledisloe and demolish part of Marsden Wharf all without public notification the casual and unconsulted sale of Queen Elizabeth Square simply add insult to past public injuries.

Wellington’s waterfront development has not all been plain sailing however. Controversially its Regional Council granted consent for a Hilton Hotel on Wellington’s Queens Wharf which was challenged in the Environment Court by the Wellington Civic Trust and Wellington Waterfront Watchdog. The judge ruled that the adverse effects on the public enjoyment of wharf space adjacent to the hotel should not be permitted. The hotel has not been built and the status and quality of Wellington waterfront public spaces and amenities has been further protected and upheld. Auckland sorely needs the same sort of coordinated, principled and organized civic unrest to hold Ports of Auckland and Auckland Council institutions to account.

The remarkable link between intrinsic human qualities such as behavior, conduct, and demeanor - and the external built environment has been recognized for years. Cities shape their citizens. Yet, this link is given little consideration in the design of Auckland’s redeveloping waterfront. The plans we see have public spaces that are shared with buses, cars and a light-rail line; spaces that are partly under private control and subject to surveillance; instead of public spaces that act simply as locations for urban interaction.

Places which are only “accessible” to citizens rather than controlled by them through use, are not truly public places.

Auckland has the opportunity now to design and create its own particular waterfront city form. One that is the shaping environment for people who grow and live here. One which actively addresses urban relationships that are overdue for repair including the city’s relationship with the Waitemata Harbour, sea and its ecosystems; the city’s relationship and engagement with Maori and Pacific culture; the built city’s relationship with shaded and leafy green spaces; the central city’s public relationship with its own citizens.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

QE Square as it used to be


Anyone remember this? Looking south east across Queen Elizabeth Square showing the Coutts Fountain, the corner of Customs Street, the South Pacific Hotel (far right), the Central Post Office (centre), Endeans building (far left).

"Please acknowledge 'Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1021-531' when re-using this image." The period is 1980-89.

Looks like an Urban Designer in Auckland City Council tried hard for a while. Even then it was hard to get rid of the cars. They seem to have rights in Auckland that would never be tolerated in other first world cities. In Auckland we celebrate when we share space between pedestrians and cars (like on Princes Wharf and on Queens Wharf and on Queen Elizabeth Square). In Wellington cars were banned from waterfront public spaces almost two decades ago.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Challenging Steps for Downtown Auckland


This 3D view diagram of a Precinct Property proposal for the re-development of Auckland's Downtown area (which shows Queen Elizabeth Square) is included in the information being considered today, under urgency, by the Chair, Deputy Chair and another Councillor who are members of Auckland Council's Hearings Committee.


Also included in the information is this 3D diagram of how the area looks today. The Hearings Committee are asked to make decisions about the appointment of an independent commissioner who will be asked to decide whether the resource consents applied for, and that are necessary for the development, should be publicly notified. Or not. And if not, that commissioner will be expected to make decisions on those resource consents alone. (As happened with the Bledisloe Wharf extensions for example).

If the commissioner decides that the applications should be notified, then that commissioner will be joined by three more commissioners who will then make decisions after notification and related hearings of submissions.

On the face of it - looking at these diagrams which are the only information about the application contained in the report being considered today by the 3 members of the Auckland Council Hearings Committee - it looks as if all of Queen Elizabeth Square is being retained as an open space. And that its edges will be activated by the proposed development. Also that a laneway will connect Queen Elizabeth Square through to Lower Albert Street. Other features of the development that are worth knowing more about include what is proposed at the corner of Custom Street and Queen Street, and at the corner of Quay Street and Albert Street. And of course the tower. It is very large and dominating.

What this report does not say is who owns Queen Elizabeth Square. It does say that Precinct will be building car parks beneath part of Queen Elizabeth Square. That was predictable - given that the original resource consent obtained by previous owners Westfield - provided for several levels of basement parking - some of which have been lost because the Central Rail Tunnel passes beneath the tower.

A number of questions and comments arise:

1)  I note that the Authorisers and Authors of this report include the same Penny Pirrit who was part of the Auckland City Council team that granted the original non-notified consent to Westfield in 2008. (One blog about this is: Downtown Deal Plot Thickens) Also part of the team today is the same senior planner. The continuity of council planning from the bad old days of Auckland City Council is alive and well in Auckland Council today.

2)  I suspect the Auckland Council Hearings team will be delighted and relieved to see Queen Elizabeth Square untouched in the Precinct proposal. Certainly I am. But is it what it seems? Why release only this image - without also explaining and clarifying the final deal.

3)  The package of consents applied for have been divided into two chunks - above ground and below ground - all part of the same application. That makes sense. The preliminary report from Auckland Council officers advises that some of the above ground activitiesfor which consent is sought are "non-complying", and some below ground are "discretionary". With any luck you'd think a commissioner would take that, and the public interest that has been generated, as a signal that these consents should be notified.

4)  However, even if they were notified, this is clearly a Public-Private-Partnership. It is a Public-Precinct-Partnership. The applications appear to only relate to what Precinct Properties would like to do on its land, under its land, and under some public land. They don't appear to relate at all to the public part of the partnership - except in so far as there will be urban design questions about the interface between buildings and public domain.

5)  This is a very important part of the city. It is critical that the redevelopment of the block integrates with other plans and with the rest of Auckland downtown. We see none of that in this proposal which brings with it the risk of incrementalism that has blighted other parts of downtown Auckland's regeneration (Princes Wharf and that part of Quay Street are examples of this sort of incremental approach where public amenity and public space planning gets forgotten.)

6)  The risk with the Council's current approach - exemplified in its determination not to notify projects such as the artwork on Queens Wharf - is that it will only satisfy private sector needs and Council's insatiable thirst for increased revenues (from land sales, development levies and increased rates). The public's right to its city and to public spaces and places that are public and which meet the varying needs of the changing Auckland waterfront visitor demographic (families, kids, young people, pensioners .... and so on), is again at risk of being short-changed.

7)  This is a joint Downtown application. Be honest. Its Council and Precinct together. Normally I would expect a plan change. Like we saw for Wynyard Quarter. That's the honest and open and systematic way of allocating land uses and planning for public and private outcomes. There is a smell of incrementalism about this process which is disturbing. Council owes Auckland citizens an explanation and reassurance.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Queens Wharf is a Category 1 Historic Place

If you look closely at this picture of Queens Wharf you will notice that Shed 11 is still there and hasn't been dismantled to make way for the Rugby World Cup Party Central structure.

This picture is from Heritage New Zealand's website and illustrates its description of a recent historic places list entry entitled Queens Wharf, Quay Street, Auckland

Queens Wharf, "includes part of the land described as Pt Lot 37 DP 131568, North Auckland Land District, and the buildings and structures known as the Queens Wharf thereon, and their fittings and fixtures" is, since December 2010, listed as a Category 1 Historic Place. This is a recent addition to the Historic Places List which, as a matter of interest, also includes the Quay Street Historic Area (described in the listing as: "This area extends along the south side of the original settlement of Quay St East (the area east of Britomart Pl was extended and handed over to the Auckland City Council in 1914.)"). The Quay Street area was added to the Historic Places list in 1994 as a "Historic Area" and is referred to in relevant Town Planning documents.

However the Queens Wharf Category 1 Historic Places status is not referred to for example in the Operative Plan (The Auckland Regional Plan Coastal). This is likely because no plan change has occurred to incorporate the new historic place since it was listed. (Unlike Wynyard Quarter for example, where two plan changes were promulgated which have ensured character buildings and suchlike are provided for in relevant Town Planning documents.)

I was an ARC councillor at the time the debate over Queens Wharf was raging between 2008 and 2010. Many will recall the debate over whether the Sheds should be demolished or not. Shed 11 was eventually saved from demolition (it was carefully dismantled and is stored somewhere) but Shed 10 remained and has been adaptively renovated consistent with its heritage status.

One of the key documents that was commissioned during this debate was a Heritage Assessment of Queens Wharf and the Sheds which was conducted by Matthews and Matthews. You can download it here.

At the time I was mainly interested in what it had to say about the Sheds (it supported their retention). But a confidential ARC report written later, around the time Councillors were deciding on arrangements with Ports of Auckland Ltd in respect of Queens Wharf  (POAL wanted rights retained to berth ships on the long sides of Queens Wharf - but not the end - which was to be kept free for public access and enjoyment) noted that the Heritage Assessment report made a number of other specific recommendations about the wharf, in particular that views of the Harbour from Queens Wharf, and from the Harbour of Queens Wharf, had heritage status.

Specifically the Matthews and Matthews Heritage Assessment report, which is dated about August 2009, recommends:
In relation to the aesthetic values the place contributes to sensory perception through the formal qualities of its composition and setting to the site, locality, district and region: “Views from the along the centre of Queens Wharf back to Queen Street and towards the Waitemata harbour are important.” And in relation to its landmark quality, Matthews and Matthews advise: “Queens Wharf occupies a prominent position when approaching Auckland and the ferry terminals from the harbour.” (Assessment, Pgs 32,33)
The text goes on to describe the landmark significance of Queens Wharf, its structures, and relationship with the Ferry Building. It mentions other historic wharves and notes its relationship with the Britomart area.

The Matthews and Matthews report was one of the influences when the Historic Places Trust investigated Queens Wharf and made its decision to list Queens Wharf as a Category One Historic Place in December 2010 just a couple of months after the SuperCity was established.

Was this listing taken into account when the B2 and B3 wharf extension applications were processed by Auckland Council?

I note that the planning reports and officer assessments of the Ports of Auckland Ltd proposed B2 and B3 wharf extensions do consider the visual effects on Quay Street - in accordance with the Auckland Regional Plan Coastal provisions.

But there is no mention of the Historic Places Trust being treated as an affected person who should be notified because the B3 extension in particular would partly obscure this historic landmark when viewed from the sea, and would obstruct heritage views of the Harbour from Queens Wharf. Nor is there any mention of the fact that having a Category One Historic Place adjacent to the proposed POAL development might conceivably constitute a "special circumstance" triggering the need to notify the applications.

Is this another public policy that was conveniently forgotten during amalgamation and was not on the desktop when planning reports were written? Does the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan appropriately provide for this 2010 change in the planning status of Queens Wharf? If we can't rely on our Council to protect the public interest in looking after and respecting historic places, who can we trust?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Urban Auckland Inc Vs POAL and Council

Yesterday, as reported in NZ Herald this morning, Urban Auckland served notice on POAL and Auckland Council that it would shortly be issuing High Court papers challenging the resource consent process for the proposed B2 and B3 wharf extensions to Bledisloe Wharf.

The letters to the Chief Executives of POAL and Auckland Council begin:

"...Urban Auckland places you on notice that it intends shortly to issue High Court proceedings to challenge the lawfulness of the decisions made by Auckland Council to process the multiple applications by Ports of Auckland Limited (POAL) for its proposed B2 and B3 Bledisloe wharf extensions on a non-notified basis and subsequently to grant those applications...."

The letter summarises a range of errors, and states:

".... A consequence of those errors is that Council did not protect the Waitemata Harbour from the adverse effects of B2 and B3, despite this being our most iconic public domain asset, and “Auckland-defining”.... Rather than protect the Waitemata Harbour, Council has allowed POAL to take more for itself without any public input. Council should have intervened. It failed to require an integrated and holistic assessment of POAL’s expansion. That was unlawful. Council should have bundled the relevant consents together, and looked at the bigger picture. Integrated management requires nothing less. Further particulars are below...."

The full letter is available here.

And if you didn't get to attend the protest last Sunday, you can see video clips of what PJ Montgomery, Chris Dickson and Cllr Chris Darby said here.

Bus Bowls Ports Red Fence Post

Walking across Quay Street today to catch a ferry about mid-day and BANG. An AIRBUS destined for the airport I guess turned left out of Queens Wharf and took one of the red fence posts with it.

Didn't even stop.

Just as well there weren't pedestrians on the footpath.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Diagnosis and Prescription for Auckland’s Dis-ease

The waterfront bull-rush battle amongst Ports of Auckland (POAL), Auckland Council (and its family of Council-Controlled Organisations), property investors, and advocates for public space and sustainable transport, is the latest chapter in Auckland’s long history of public planning battles mocked as “the Auckland disease”: a symptom of severe growing pains, vigorous vested interests, and increasingly de-regulated public institutions.

The battle goal has remained the same: control over economic or social benefits from waterfront land reclaimed from the seabed over the last one hundred years.

By 1973 Ports of Auckland’s predecessor, Auckland Harbour Board (AHB) had reclaimed 160 hectares of Waitemata Harbour seabed adjacent to Auckland’s burgeoning central business district. Today POAL operates Auckland’s port on about 55 hectares of this land and much of the rest has been vested to Auckland City Council for public roads and streets, and to utility operators for public works like railways, bus and train stations, the central post office and gasworks.

Such uses of reclaimed seabed appear to be strongly in the public interest, however other transactions have principally benefited AHB. As Roland O’Regan, Chairman of Wellington’s Harbour Board in 1974 observed: “..some Harbour Boards seeking to protect themselves against sudden falls in income…have vested large areas of seabed in themselves so they have the power to create income earning land...”. Auckland Harbour Board persuaded Parliament to grant it some 5,000 acres of seabed in 1875, while a few years later Wellington Harbour Board only gained rights to specific seabed areas relating to specific works. O’Regan went on, “Auckland Harbour Board not only has large areas of seabed vested in it but receives $1,000,000/annum from residential rents.”

Sour grapes perhaps, but this is the basis of much of the Auckland disease, and also why Wellington’s redeveloped waterfront is much more successful as a public attraction than Auckland’s central waterfront is today, and is shaping up to be in future.

From the mid-1970’s Wellington Harbour Board and Wellington City Council entered binding agreements and generally worked together “to implement the Concept Plan to the fullest extent in its provision of open spaces and recreational facilities for the use and enjoyment of the public which would not otherwise be achievable.”

Auckland Harbour Board’s behaviour stands in stark contrast. In 1965, increasing rent potential to more than $1.4 million/annum, AHB doubled ground floor area entitlements in its plans for the Auckland Downtown site. This led to the controversial 20 storey tower now known as the HSBC building and to an unsuccessful public space named Queen Elizabeth Square. And since 1997 POAL has pocketed more than $250 million from the sale of Queens Wharf, Princes Wharf leases, Viaduct Harbour land and Wynyard Quarter.

Accounts setting out revenues that publicly-owned POAL earns from its waterfront real estate business, let alone from importing cars, and the extent to which these revenues subsidise its container handling charges, are all hidden from public scrutiny.

Things might have been different if Auckland City Council had stood up to Auckland Harbour Board when it had the opportunity, and might still be different if Auckland Council accorded proper weight to its Local Government Act duties to ratepayers. Instead both institutions stand guilty of being bought off. Auckland City Council opposed the dominating POAL supported Hilton Hotel development on Princes Wharf until it was promised a rate revenue stream from activities that would be located outside its jurisdiction above the seabed. One might have expected Auckland Council to replace Queen Elizabeth Square with equivalent green space within the city fabric, but instead wants the silver on offer to compensate Precinct for carparks lost by the CRL tunnel; is attracted by the promise of development levies and rate revenues from expanded commercial development; has made vague unbudgeted promises to free up Queens Wharf and lengthen Captain Cook for cruise ships; and offers the public a cheap deal “letting us have access” to streets and wharf spaces that we already own!

This cheap public land swap deal is especially cheap because any public money that might be paid to POAL can immediately be translated into a dividend so the Council gets its money back.

Combined with POAL’s noisy claims it can built wharf extensions to Bledisloe and demolish part of Marsden Wharf all without public notification the casual and unconsulted sale of Queen Elizabeth Square simply add insult to past public injuries.

Wellington’s waterfront development has not all been plain sailing however. Controversially its Regional Council granted consent for a Hilton Hotel on Wellington’s Queens Wharf which was challenged in the Environment Court by the Wellington Civic Trust and Wellington Waterfront Watchdog. The judge ruled that the adverse effects on the public enjoyment of wharf space adjacent to the hotel should not be permitted. The hotel has not been built and the status and quality of Wellington waterfront public spaces and amenities has been further protected and upheld. Auckland sorely needs the same sort of coordinated, principled and organized civic unrest to hold Ports of Auckland and Auckland Council institutions to account.

The remarkable link between intrinsic human qualities such as behavior, conduct, and demeanor - and the external built environment has been recognized for years. Cities shape their citizens. Yet, this link is given little consideration in the design of Auckland’s redeveloping waterfront. The plans we see have public spaces that are shared with buses, cars and a light-rail line; spaces that are partly under private control and subject to surveillance; instead of public spaces that act simply as locations for urban interaction.

Places which are only “accessible” to citizens rather than controlled by them through use, are not truly public places.

Auckland has the opportunity now to design and create its own particular waterfront city form. One that is the shaping environment for people who grow and live here. One which actively addresses urban relationships that are overdue for repair including the city’s relationship with the Waitemata Harbour, sea and its ecosystems; the city’s relationship and engagement with Maori and Pacific culture; the built city’s relationship with shaded and leafy green spaces; the central city’s public relationship with its own citizens.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

QE Square as it used to be


Anyone remember this? Looking south east across Queen Elizabeth Square showing the Coutts Fountain, the corner of Customs Street, the South Pacific Hotel (far right), the Central Post Office (centre), Endeans building (far left).

"Please acknowledge 'Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1021-531' when re-using this image." The period is 1980-89.

Looks like an Urban Designer in Auckland City Council tried hard for a while. Even then it was hard to get rid of the cars. They seem to have rights in Auckland that would never be tolerated in other first world cities. In Auckland we celebrate when we share space between pedestrians and cars (like on Princes Wharf and on Queens Wharf and on Queen Elizabeth Square). In Wellington cars were banned from waterfront public spaces almost two decades ago.