Discussions and presentations I've been party to have referred from time to time to an existing resource consent for a tower building in the Downtown Block, on the corner of Lower Albert and Custom Street.
But I wasn't aware of that resource consent when I put up this May 16 posting where I roughly positioned a tower based on attending the Council Development Committee meeting where this report was tabled and discussed and which led to Auckland Councillors' 14-7 decision to sell QE Square in principle.
What that report to councillors said, in its Executive Summary, included these two paragraphs:
Almost uniquely in a city centre context land in the block is owned by only two parties. Precinct Properties New Zealand Limited (PPNZL) owns the DSC and the two adjacent commercial office towers (HSBC Tower, 1 Queen Street and Zurich House, 21 Queen Street) and council owns Queen Elizabeth Square (QE Square).and....
PPNZL recently embarked on a master planning exercise for the properties in its ownership within the DSC block. The initial concept design work suggests basement parking, a three storey street based retail podium with potential roof top space and a 36 storey commercial tower placed on the corner of Lower Albert Street and Custom Street West.I only discover now, looking back, that in the back page "comments" section of the report is this paragraph:
Sitting adjacent to the Britomart Transport Centre and the Downtown waterfront the DSC block has long being recognised as having significant latent potential as a major city centre gateway. An extant resource consent granted in 2008 to the former owners of the Downtown Shopping Centre, Westfield Group, comprises a 41 storey commercial office tower and two storey podium covered retail mall.You'd have to have been a very keen and acute councillor to have picked this up, given that the report was received very late in the day, and given that this information came after the Executive Summary, and after the Recommendations. I suspect that Councillors voted without knowing about this resource consent.
What's the big deal, you ask? Well. For a start I'd assumed that PPNZL would have had to go through a resource consent process for any new tower, which would've covered issues like shading of QE Square (assuming it is retained), how it affects the waterfront, how it affects views to the waterfront, how carparks might affect public transport services and other traffic movements. Stuff like that.
But if PPNZL owns the land, the Zurich Tower, the HSBC Tower, AND a resource consent for a new 41 storey commercial office tower - what further resource consent might be needed?
Once the penny dropped, I asked myself this question: how did Westfield Group get resource consent for a 41 storey tower there, in 2008, without any public interest or concern being expressed?
And another question: if consent was granted in 2008, surely it would have lapsed by now - most consents are effective for about 5 years - has it lapsed?
So I asked Auckland Council for the officer report, and the consent decision, which arrived this week. The accompanying letter explained:
....Please find attached the decision and the planners report on 7 Queen Street (demolition of the existing Downtown Shopping centre and construction of a 41 level commercial and office building) granted in 21 April 2008. An extension of time has also been granted and the consent is valid until April 2018....Interesting. First of all I looked at the decision report from commissioners chaired by Greg Hill. It confirmed that the consent would expire in 5 years, unless application is made to council for an extension. Ok. That was clear. And I was also interested to see what objections there had been to the proposal (naively as it happens), and how they dealt with them. I was surprised to find this:
So I opened up the planning report which runs to 30 pages of sophisticated justifiction for granting consent AND no notification.
Would you believe Auckland City Council even engaged the services of the same urban design adviser as was used for the Princes Wharf development - which was also granted and not notified.
According to the planning report there were a number of issues with the application including height, verandahs, loading zones and digging out 53,000 cubic metres to provide for basement parking.
So the proposed building went through the height control by 20 metres. The length of a cricket pitch. Quite a lot. The control plane is there to protect public spaces and other buildings. Views, sunlight, shading. The building proposed infringes this control. It requires a resource consent because exceeding the harbour edge height plane is a restricted discretionary activity.
This diagram is contained in the planners report. To the left it shows No 1 Queen Street - the HSBC building. To the right is the proposed building outline. There is no legend with the diagram in the report, so I am not sure what it shows - in terms of the harbour edge height control plan (given that the application exceeds the height control by 20 metres). But the diagram does give an idea of scale. Somewhere down below, at street level is QE Square, Lower Albert Street, and Custom Street.
The report then says this:
Which means: "...where rules would normally trigger public notification...."
I won't bore you with the detail. Suffice to say, Auckland City Council staff artfully argue in their report in support of the infringements, and that public notification is not required.
The report also describes concerns that had been communicated by ARTA (Auckland Regional Transport Authority). These related to the effect of construction on public transport services, and on the Central Rail Link. The report summarises these issues:
The report goes on to argue that because ARTA is not a requiring authority it need not be notified about the application. Man. That's a bit harsh. By the way, the report notes that separate consents would be required from ARC relating to the discharge of stormwater from the site during construction. Remember what happened with the first Britomart application - the Les Mills proposal. It came to grief when ARC was approached to issue a stormwater discharge consent. But I digress.
Then we have this recommendation from Auckland City Council officers:
One planner advised, "that consent should be judicially reviewed."
Which brings me to the end of this post. But not the end of this investigation. This consent would have expired in April 2013 - unless it was renewed. Officers have advised that the consent has been renewed - presumably sometime before April 2013. That renewal would have been done by the new Auckland Council. You might have hoped that the Machiavellian practices rumoured to have been typical of Auckland City Council for CBD projects might have been cleaned out by amalgamation. Dream on.
I have asked Auckland Council for information relating to the renewal decision. Watch this space.