The second meeting I attended was a "Media Briefing" convened by Auckland Council Development Ctte Chair Penny Hulse assisted by Auckland Council Urban Design Champion Ludo Campbell-Reid. The purpose of the briefing was the Downtown West area - in particular the controversial Precinct Properties proposal which may or not incorporate Queen Elizabeth Square.
In attendance were reporters for Metro, Radio NZ (earlier report), Stuff, TransportBlog (and here), a TV1 reporter, and Bob Dey (earlier report). They have put up some useful reports from the meeting - transport blog are to be especially commended for including historic images and maps of Downtown Auckland. I was there in my capacity as a blogging commentator on Auckland planning issues.
There is trouble up road. The tip of the iceberg shows in Precinct Properties submissions to the Unitary Plan. And I'll introduce those at the end of this post. But first, a bit of introduction. What was the difference between these two Council meetings? And what appears to be happening...?
There were many differences between the meetings. But I'll start with what's the same. Each of these public/private proposals involves publicly owned assets (Queens Wharf / Queen Elizabeth Square); each involves a private sector investor with adjacent investments (Ferry Group own the Ferry Building / Precinct Properties own the HSBC Building and Downtown Shopping); each investor is engaging with the relevant public entity (Waterfront Auckland / Auckland Council). What's different is the way in which public interests are being treated, the way in which the public is being involved, and the amount of information about the private sector proposals that is being shared with the public.
The Ferry Group proposal, as far as I understand it, was presented to the Mayor first, who liked it, and then it went to Waterfront Auckland, who were less impressed. But it's continuing to do the rounds. The Ferry Group want a leasehold interest on Queens Wharf deck space, they want to build a couple of Shed 10 like structures there with public space beneath (a little like what was proposed by Auckland Harbour Board when it constructed its HQ on Princes Wharf with three stories of clear space for pedestrian permeability below) and office and commercial activity above, and they want to build a more efficient ferry terminal. (There's more - but that's the guts of it. They propose that the northern end and the sunny side of the wharf would be permanent public space. But the proposal doesn't address transport requirements that well.) So it's on the table. A public offer. It is what it is.
The Precinct Properties proposal appears to be very different. It has the appearance of having been swallowed hook line and sinker by Auckland Council. And now Auckland Council is in the unfortunate position of having to sell it to Councillors, to the media (hence the briefing), and the public. But this is without showing anybody anything of the proposal. What we are seeing is a pile of post-decision justification.
Here are extracts Ludo quoted from the report:
What he could have done was to provide the context from the report, which looked also at Lower Queen Street and QE Square, and how what we see now came about. The report discusses how the redevelopment came about and the role of Auckland Harbour Board (which owned the land then)....
The Ministry of Works reviewer notes the emphasis on "economic" uses, and draws attention to the fine words that were in the original proposal....but which were not present when it was all done....
And what is relevant to what is proposed now, is the 1977 report's critique of the downtown shopping area's urban design contribution to the failure....
...and the 1977 critique goes on to draw attention to the absence of verandahs and shelter - the sort of amenity that is an essential part of pedestrian amenity...
Ludo, your credibility as an urban design champion is compromised by your selective use of information to support a position that appears to be consolidating, in Auckland Council, at the expense of the Auckland public. The winners in the scenario that appears to be emerging are the Council (money in the bank from the QE Square sale), and Precinct Properties (in control of an enlarged downtown/waterfront land-holding). The losers are the public of Auckland.
So how can we find out what's planned by Precinct Properties? They can hide behind Auckland Council and its senior staff who have gone into bat for them. But what do they really want? A good place to look - I discover - is the Precinct Properties submission to the Unitary Plan dated 28 February this year.
The PAUP (Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan) currently has this provision:
And there's a whole lot else. Other PAUP changes wanted by Precinct Properties are listed in the bullet-point summaries below. They relate to its proposals (which remain to be seen) for the redevelopment of Downtown West. (I have provided brief explanations in the brackets):
- delete the policy: "require buildings to transition in height from the core central business district to the waterfront and neighbouring, lower scale precincts". (PP wants to go higher and be untroubled by public spaces and places, or more human scale adjacent precincts like the waterfront.)
- relax the graduated Harbour Edge Height Control Plane between CBD and waterfront for Downtown West (PP wants to go through that height control.)
- remove the requirement for a formal Framework Plan for Downtown West (because PP reckon there are other ways of getting integrated development without going through the detail of a Framework Plan)
- remove the requirement that new laneways have no or limited vehicle access to qualify for development bonus (because PP wants to free up these new streets for non-pedestrian traffic.)
- remove the requirement that new laneways be publicly accessible 7 days a week, 24 hours day (because PP says this is not possible for safety, security and operational reasons.)
- allow building demolition as a controlled activity (ie permitted without need for a consent or permit as presently proposed).
- increase particular building height limits from 50 metres to 75 metres
- remove requirement for a Design Statement for new development in accordance with the Auckland Design Manual (Man. What does Auckland's Urban Design Champion think of that submission! Like throwing the Auckland urban design bible out the window isn't it?)
- remove the amenity yard beside No 1 Queen Street because it is unduly restrictive (this is where the glass box coffee shop is across Quay Street from the ferry building)
- remove provisions requiring sustainable development standards of new buildings such as Green Star and Living Building Challenge
- change the current policy: "provide for an interconnected network of high quality public open spaces which vary in form and function in highly accessible locations within the precinct that are activated" by the addition of the phrase: "as far as practicable". (And that just about sums it up for PP. It wants to be let off the hook for most of the things that the unsuspecting public might want.)
Be very afraid guys. Beware what you risk getting us into here.
And if you don't believe me, check out the submission here.