An update on the court hearing after 3 days - but not of peace, love and music!
Auckland Council and Precinct Properties have really thrown the book at this. As witnesses take the stand to be cross examined, Counsel ask them to take one of several full lever arch binders, turn to a tab, and refer to a page number. I think the highest so far is 1,900 and something.
The hearing started with the gentle but insistent tones of Paddy McNamara acting for Auckland Council and Auckland Transport. His focus was to set out the functions of Queen Elizabeth Square (just the section up for sale) and to argue that these functions could be better provided elsewhere - notably on the proposed waterfront spaces. Appropriately he also allocated time to exploring the Road Stop and Plan Change. He concentrated on criticising Queen Elizabeth Square by itself rather than considering it PLUS Lower Queen Street spaces combined.
Judge Newhook was immediately interested in the certianty of funding for the proposed alternative waterfront spaces, noting that Council resolutions can readily be overturned.
Tim Watts formally head of Auckland Council's built environment team was up after lunch. As author of many of the reports and council agenda papers he has been central to the process for the past few years. Commissioner Kernohan jumped in here questioning whether this would be a like-for-like process. Kernohan suggested QE Square was a civic place, central, and relating to the CPO building. He suggested that you can't replace one with the other.
One of the interesting points that came out of the cross examination was when McNamara asked Tim Watts to read from sections of the Urban Reset report that was prepared for Auckland Council in 2014 by Garth Falconer. He read from its account of pedestrian movements. This was new information to me.
Interestingly, Auckland Council experts generally argue that the desire line for pedestrians is North South along Lower Queen Street, and that hardly anyone ventures into QE Square at all. However, the forgotten page 13 in the 2014 Urban Reset report indicates that East/West ped movements across QE Square are in the same range (11,000 - 15,000/day) as those North/South along the west edge of Lower Queen Street. This fact flatly contradicts the popular myth that QE Square is rarely used. Many mix and mingle on the way. Or sit and chill. Eat a sandwich. Also of interest, the Urban Reset report contains the Colliers door count data for people entering the downtown shopping centre off QE Square. The figure reported is 4,125/day on average (2013). Clearly Colliers are mainly interested in how many people actually ENTER the downtown shopping centre (DSC). But of course they have to leave as well. The evidence in front of the court includes Collier door entry counts for the 3 doors. Entry figures about the same for all three - with more entering from Custom Street. It appears that the combined entry and exit ped movements in and out of the DSC from and into QE Square account for most of the 11,000 (minimum) total ped movements across QE Square/day that are reported in the Urban Reset study.
So far the court has not considered how those numbers would change with: a Bus Interchange on Lower Albert; some new activation fronting onto QE Square; the upgraded shopping centre; and a new office tower that will accommodate thousands of new office workers - most of whom will arrive by public transport for work. All this indicates that QE Square will be a thriving pedestrian mall.
Enough of that.
Day 2 was another busy day. Highlights including more evidence about the proposed waterfront spaces, what they are for, who will fund them (Council or AT), whether they are consented or not (not) and how likely they are to be delivered. More on that another day. It seemed to me that the proposed spaces - to be built by Auckland Transport - would be there to support expanded ferry services and new berthage. All necessary - but hardly compensation for downtown public space. More on Day 2 another day.
Day 3 was notable for the submissions from Derek Nolan for Precinct Properties. Typically aggressive and combative he dismissed Graeme Scott's proposed outcomes for Queen Square as "fantastical"....
I quote from Graeme's evidence here:
There is a need to provide a major, high quality civic space in the downtown area that can accommodate a wide variety of public uses. To be an Auckland-wide facility, and to be memorable in the minds of most Aucklanders, it needs the scale, enclosure and shape of a major square. Queen Square provides the opportunity to re-create such a space. It has the size, the location, the heritage buildings as framing elements and a major
new development along its western to enable its development as a great public space for our city.
I foresee a future urban square in front of the Britomart Transport Centre that accommodates a wide variety of public activities in various areas within its perimeter, where these different areas are demarcated by excellent paving, planting and furniture design such as we have seen elsewhere in the city in the last decade, with hugely active frontages around Zurich House and the new downtown development, and where the south face of the HSBC building becomes a positive attractor – a giant light show incorporating advertising and art perhaps.
You'd think that a city aspiring to be the most liveable would view this sort of idea as worthwhile and worth delivering for its citizens. Well. Selling public open space doesn't suggest Council has much enthusiasm with that idea. More on that another day. The hearing has been extremely valuable and valued. Your continuing support is much appreciated.
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