A week ago we discussed the possibility of the council selling Queen Elizabeth Square to Precinct properties and during the week the council debated it at it’s Development Committee allowing new details to emerge. The report that accompanied the discussion provides a lot of hints at what the thinking is around what this part of town could look like in the future, here’s the executive summary.
The Downtown Shopping Centre (DSC) block, sitting between Lower Queen Street and Lower Albert Street, is strategically placed at the point where the city centre meets the waterfront and various public transport modes interchange (ferry, bus and rail). Its future development is critically important to the delivery of the City Rail Link (CRL) and has the potential to contribute to the realisation of some key City Centre Masterplan 2012 (CCMP) outcomes, most notably, the transformation of the Quay Street area as a landmark waterfront space.
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).
The alignment of the proposed City Rail Link (CRL) requires new rail tunnels to be constructed through the site occupied by the DSC. PPNZL purchased the site in 2012 fully aware of the CRL designation process and associated construction requirements and motivated by the opportunity to agree a joint development proposal with Council/AT that would enable the rail tunnels to be built in conjunction with the redevelopment of the block.
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.
As part of the integrated redevelopment of the block, PPNZL have identified an opportunity to optimise the retail offer and potential built form outcome through the inclusion of QE Square in a comprehensive development.
Council staff believes that the inclusion of QE Square in a comprehensive development could provide the opportunity to advance the CCMP goals by further enhancing overall retail vitality and viability and public space provision in the city centre. Proceeds from the disposal of QE Square, an underutilised and poorly performing city space, would enable the creation of new public space that better meets the needs of the area. This new ‘offsite’ space would be over and above any publicly accessible space (e.g. laneways and rooftop space) provided within the block as part of satisfying the operative Central Area District Plan provisions.
Comprehensive redevelopment also provides the opportunity to reinstate the historic built form of the block lost through large-scale demolition and the closure of Little Queen Street in the 1970s. Current proposals include a reinterpreted Little Queen Street and the reintroduction of the original strong active built edge to Lower Queen Street which, it is proposed, in front of the Chief Post Office (CPO) building be transformed as a pedestrianised civic space.
The ‘below ground’ CRL works and ‘above ground’ redevelopment are capable of being realised in stages however delivering them as a comprehensive package is likely to lead to a higher quality and more cost effective outcome. This opportunity is time limited resulting in the need to now determine whether the physical extent of a comprehensive above ground redevelopment includes QE Square.
The report seeks approval in principle to the inclusion of QE Square in wider redevelopment of the DSC block subject to outcome of associated statutory public processes. It also proposes that the proceeds from disposal of QE Square be reinvested in the provision of new and/or enhanced public civic space in the area, over and above that proposed by PPNZL to be delivered within the DSC block. This offsite space could, for example, include the creation of waterfront public space at the foot of Lower Albert Street or at the Admiralty Steps west of Queens Wharf.
So from this it suggests the plan would be to
- Move the bus interchange to Lower Albert St with an East-West pedestrian connection
- Turn Queen St between Customs and Quay St into a pedestrian only space effectively making a much larger public square
- Reinstate little Queen St as a North-South laneway (although I imagine that won’t go through the HSBC building)
- Use the proceeds of the sale would go towards the creation of a new public space in the area.
I really like the sound of this and I think it would fix a lot of problems I have with the area right now. Having buses right outside Britomart is handy but I also find it a pain when trying to get to/from the station, especially when buses are pulling out of Galway St. Moving the bus interchange to Lower Albert St might not appeal to some however having made the trek between there and Britomart daily it’s super simple and would be even more so with buses gone from Lower Queen St. In addition it would also simplify the Queen St and Quay St intersection meaning faster pedestrian phases. In addition to this I believe we are likely to see vastly improved bus provision along Customs St leading towards a full busway on Fanshawe St. Between that and Albert St changes mentioned I think it would improve buses in the city while also improving the area for pedestrians.
In my opinion turning lower Queen St back into a pedestrian only space would result in a much nicer space than that the existing square provides. Having it lined with retail as well as feeding into new pedestrian laneways would be a much better outcome than what we have now. This also sounds like it would see vehicles removed from Tyler St and Galway St allowing us to make much better use of those. In addition it need to be remembered that Quay St will be vastly improved for people and we have the massive Queens Wharf crying out for use as a more prominent people place.
When it comes to trade-offs, it seems so far that on balance this would deliver a much better result than what we have now.
The council agreed to continuing to look at the proposal, here’s the resolution that was passed.
That the Auckland Development Committee:
a) approve in principle the disposal of land on which Queen Elizabeth Square stands as part of the wider redevelopment of the Downtown Shopping Centre block subject to the outcome of associated statutory public processes (road stopping and rezoning of the land).
b) agree to the sale only if the proceeds from the potential disposal of Queen Elizabeth Square are reinvested in new or enhanced public civic space/s that :
i. is of at least the same quantum and higher quality to the existing space
ii. is located either within or in reasonable proximity to the Downtown Shopping Centre block
iii. is capable of being delivered broadly at the same time as the permanent loss of the existing space.
c) direct staff to work with the Waitemata Local Board and Iwi on evaluating ‘offsite’ public civic space options with the findings to be considered by the Parks, Recreation and Sports Committee prior to being presented back to the Auckland Development Committee for approval in August.
d) agree to the sale of Queen Elizabeth Square being considered as part of the preparation of a Development Agreement between Auckland Transport, Auckland Council Property Limited and Precinct Properties New Zealand Limited on the basis that:
i. its final inclusion remains subject to statutory public processes (road stopping and rezoning of the land).
ii. the Development Agreement include conditions relating to the built form outcomes sought by council.
e) agree that any disposal of Queen Elizabeth Square is done so in the context of the overall masterplan and its vision for the city centre and achieving world class outcomes befitting this unique space in the context of Auckland.
Here’s who voted for and against the proposal.
Cr AJ Anae
Cr CE Brewer
Mayor LCM Brown
Cr WB Cashmore
Cr RI Clow
Cr LA Cooper
Cr CE Fletcher
Chairperson PA Hulse
Cr DA Krum
Cr CM Penrose
Cr D Quax
Cr SL Stewart
Cr JG Walker
Cr MP Webster
Deputy Chairperson C Darby
Cr ME Lee
Cr WD Walker
Cr J Watson
Cr GS Wood
This is a a plan as part of a student project for the site but is an example of the kind of thinking that is likely to be going on.