The Auckland Council war on Auckland’s city centre: the city centre fights back

It’s been quite a year hasn’t it. Looking back to last December I recall a mood of hopeful expectation that the new mayor and council would soon ‘fix’ Auckland Council and its unpopular CCOs. Sadly, things have not turned out that way. 

One year on, the public mood is now focussed on the damage the council is doing to our city centre, formerly known as the ‘CBD’, principally Queen Street, once celebrated as the nation’s premier shopping street. The serious and chronic problems with crime and rough sleepers here are characteristic of how the Auckland Council ‘family’ is failing Auckland and Aucklanders.

Hundreds of millions have been spent by the council in recent years in this area, restricting traffic access and removing on-street parking. It is now not only difficult to drive on Queen Street but also a mission just to get across town. The expensive, heavily engineered ‘improvements’ were designed by bureaucrats to be ‘people friendly’ and to reduce carbon emissions but arguably are achieving the opposite.

While the narrowing of lanes in Queen Street is still ongoing, a seemingly pointless ‘Vehicle Restricted Area’, set up by AT in 2022 between Wakefield and Wellesley Streets (the Arts Precinct), has trapped thousands of unsuspecting motorists with $150 fines. Meanwhile Victoria Street from Federal to Queen Street has now been blocked for months for the building of vastly enlarged footpaths and a two-way cycleway that council bureaucrats feel are an essential add-on to the new CRL station entrance. This at the cost of dozens of short-stay car parks and small business loading zones.

The council’s heavily intrusive construction activities according to city retail advocate Viv Beck of ‘Heart of the City’ is an ongoing challenge for retailers still recovering from the pandemic. Instead of ideological zealotry, intelligent integrated transport planning is needed here, carefully balancing private and service vehicles, public transport and active modes, with a serious appreciation of the social and economic importance of city centre retail.

Queen Street at its virbrant zenith in the 1960s when Auckland’s population was less than a million people.

Last month AT opened a new front in its war on cars – this time on Karangahape Road.  With minimal notice it announced the removal of swathes of carparks to make way for new bus lanes, despite the present lanes adequately coping for buses. In response to a public outcry from K Road businesses (and intervention by the mayor Brown and myself), AT paused the project until February. Nevertheless, the next day AT contractors painted in the new bus lanes resulting in more confusion and frustration. AT’s next target is the closure of Mercury Lane despite the opposition from George Court apartment residents battling to keep it open. Also imminent is AT’s closure of Wellesley Street West, making it bus-only access. Happily for Auckland Council and Sky Casino, the restriction is just between Queen and Federal Streets, conveniently preserving access to council HQ and casino car parks. 

Pushing back against AT’s removal of street car parks, local GP Dr Andrew Wong and chairperson K Road Business Association Muy Chhour. Note bus proceeding briskly in normal lane. (Photo Mike Lee).

Meanwhile down on the waterfront the Mayor’s office is pushing the sale and demolition of the Downtown Car Park Building, despite failure to meet the council’s sale conditions, and a public petition which has now increased to just under 10,000 signatures.

Among the growing number of opponents to the sale is ‘Save Queen Street Inc’ led by businessman Andrew Krukziener, who built the iconic Metropolis building. Mr Krukziener recently presented engineering plans to the Council’s Transport & Infrastructure committee for an alternative design which would retain 1200 short stay car parks while selling the air rights, enabling the construction of two towers from a podium above. A much smarter concept and a more than $200m better financial outcome for ratepayers than the present dismal deal with Precinct Properties. There is now so much alarm about the damage the loss of these public car parks would do to the downtown, the council will find itself in court.

Finally, the council is now promoting a congestion charging cordon on the state-owned motorways around the city centre. There is apparent confusion among its advocates, led by Mayor Brown about whether this is another revenue opportunity or is about changing driving behaviour. It can’t really be both. People are asking if the council is so concerned about congestion on the motorways why is it actively creating it on its own roads?

All accounts suggest the incoming government is not especially impressed with this scheme, which leads me to my final point. The rather stunning election results, especially in Labour seats, had very much the air of a protest vote, especially in Auckland where a remarkable 45% of National’s total vote came from. I suspect the election outcome was not just about public exasperation with an out-of-touch government which failed to deliver, but also frustration with the Auckland Council ‘family’ which remains very much un-fixed. I believe the new government understands this. We live in hope.

On that note I wish ‘Ponsonby News’ readers a very Happy Christmas and a better 2024.

This article was published in the December 2023 issue of Ponsonby News

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