As mentioned yesterday, Britomart is now 10 years old and Auckland Transport and the Council decided to celebrate that milestone today. I caught an early (for me) train into Britomart this morning to have a look at the celebrations. Here is Len arriving at the station.
Many people would have received some cake as they arrived this morning. Here is what it looked like before being cut into small pieces. I’m told the cake weighed 60kg and contained lights and the number on the top rotated.
But the most interesting thing about the morning was Len Browns speech. Precinct Properties – the owners of the Downtown Shopping Centre – want to demolish the mall and redevelop the site which is likely to start 2016/17. The council is in the process of negotiating with them to build the CRL tunnels through the site at the same time so that they don’t have to hold the development up or go back and do it later on. This is significant for many reasons, first of which is that it means the CRL is officially being started in 2016 but that isn’t the only thing. It means that Auckland Transport no longer need to purchase the entire site saving around $80 million. This is even more significant as while AT would have been able to resell the empty site once they had finished with it, my understanding is that one of the quirks of our economic assessment criteria prevents the resale of future unneeded land from considered in the Benefit Cost Ratio calculations. The map below shows the designation that Auckland Transport is seeking:
News that the a section of the tunnel will begin earlier than the rest of the project in order for a development to occur is also extremely similar to what happened with Britomart itself. Back in the late 1990’s the tunnel connecting the station to Quay Park was built before the station itself was even agreed upon and when it was far from certain that it would even happen and was done to enable the land above it to be developed.
But this announcement won’t be without its own challenges. Auckland Transport had initially intended to use the site as a works yard – something Precinct weren’t happy about in their submission on the designation (pages 34-38).
Not having the site available could mean that AT will have to reassess how the build the project or alternatively buy another site to use. This perhaps represents one of the key reasons that Precinct are keen to get an agreement, and their development under way as soon as possible.
However while it might present some challenges for AT, it also presents some interesting opportunities. At this stage the plan only seems to be to build the tunnels under the actual mall site however there is potentially a lot of value in extending the tunnel a little bit on either side.
An extension under Customs St could mean the intersection is sorted out before Quay St is hopefully narrowed down and made more pedestrian friendly. It would mean that when it comes time to dig the rest of the tunnel that Customs St can be unaffected which I’m sure would help greatly with traffic flows. It also means that permanent changes – like hopefully a busway – could be made to Customs St before the CRL is built.
At the other end, extending the tunnel under QE2 Square, the bus only section of Queen St and connecting the tunnel into Britomart itself could bring even bigger benefits. It would allow the tunnels to be used to store trains which could increase the capacity of the station enough to enable another couple of trains per hour to use it. That could potentially allow for upgrades and higher frequencies on the Onehunga line to be brought forward separate of the CRL or alternatively a new rail spur to Mt Roskill. It would add capacity by having one train enter the station, dropping off passengers at the platform then carrying on into the tunnel stub to end its journey. Because the points don’t need to change another train could follow through right behind and terminate at the platform like what happens now. The first train could be parked up in the tunnel until it is needed again in the afternoon peak where the reverse happens. In the off peak there wouldn’t be the capacity limitations like there are at peak so services into Britomart wouldn’t be as constrained.
With these two small extensions it also means that the entire northern end of the CRL project is completed and can then be largely immune from the disruption that will occur when Albert St is dug up. It also means we can put in place some permanent infrastructure for buses through the area .
Here is a press release from Precinct Properties on the issue:
Precinct CRL negotiations with Auckland Council
Scott Pritchard, the Chief Executive of Precinct Properties, said today the company has entered negotiations with Auckland Council with a view to coordinating the timing of works at the Downtown Shopping Centre with the building of a tunnel at the site for the City Rail Link.
“We welcome the chance to work together with the Council as obviously it would make a lot of sense to coordinate timing so they can advance works for the CRL tunnel at this site at the same time as we develop the Downtown Centre.”
While it was still early days, he said the company’s work at the Centre would deliver on a long-held vision of building on the natural advantages of the location to create an attractive new precinct with quality office space and a new level of retail experience.
“We have had a strategy of focussing on the harbour-front area for some time. This is a unique location right on the waterfront and near Auckland’s transport hub. It offers an exciting opportunity to create a special area in the heart of the city to attract people into Queen St.”
Precinct has been a long-standing supporter of the City Rail Link and the Council’s City Centre Masterplan
Precinct will seek world-class input into planning for the location. But the process is still at a very early stage, with actual physical works not expected to begin until 2016.
As well as the CRL we will be closely following what develops on this important site.