I'm one stakeholder interested in how it's all going and learning from the past so we don't risk repeating historic mistakes. That's why I've sought information about the various resource consents and planning processes relating to the Downtown site, or Number 7 Queen Street, which is the address of the Downtown Westfield Shopping Centre that has been purchased by Precinct Properties for redevelopment, and under which will pass a section of tunnel allowing the Central Rail Link access into Britomart station.
This posting contains extracts from the decision report which went with the non-notified consent granted in 2008 to Westfield to build a 41 storey tower at 7 Queen Street (the picture shown is part of the original consent application documentation, looking North East across the Custom Street/Lower Albert Street intersection). That consent would have lapsed in 2013. This posting considered the extension process whereby Auckland Council, in 2011, changed the lapse date from 2013 to 2018. This is the resource consent purchased by Precinct Properties when it took ownership of No 7 Queen Street.
This newspaper article is based on information I obtained about the process that occurred between Auckland City Council, Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA), Ontrack, and Westfields in 2008 in regard to the problem of the CRL tunnel going under the site planned for the tower, and through the basement area planned for 471 car parks. In essence this appears to be what happened:
- Westfields applied to Auckland City Council on the 14 April 2007 to build a 41 Storey Tower and 471 basement carparks on the corner of Lower Albert and Custom Streets. Despite letters from Auckland Regional Transport Authority and documentation from Ontrack about the proposed CRL tunnel, and despite conflicting legal advice, Auckland City Council officers decided the application did not need to be publicly notified and it was granted “without any issues of contention”.
- Consent was granted in April 2008 at which time the senior planner wrote to an adjacent land owner stating: “I am informed that it may be several years before redevelopment proceeds.”
- It appears that ARTA and Ontrack commenced judicial review proceedings shortly thereafter in May 2008 but these did not proceed. Documents suggest an MOU was signed between Ontrack and Westfields.
- A year after amalgamation, in August 2011, Auckland Council received another application from Westfield, this time to extend the life of the consent from 2013 to 2018. It argues in that application: “Westfield was unaware of the rail tunnel proposition when the decision was taken to invest in the proposed scheme, and seek consent for the redevelopment of the site.” But documents indicate Westfield met with ARTA almost a year before the original consent was granted.
- This time, Auckland Council dealt with the application, but it was the same Auckland City Council officer. He recommended the extension be dealt with non-notified again. A single commissioner sitting alone took a few minutes to sign it off, and the Auckland public remained none the wiser.
Most of the above has been about rail public transport. But the untold story, and one which needs to be appreciated and taken seriously by those planning Downtown now - especially as there's a commitment to getting buses out of Queen Elizabeth Square - is what has happened to the buses? How were they planned for in 2008, and what will happen now?
The original application included 471 carparks, a new double-width vehicle entry crossing on Lower Albert Street, and the commercialisation of part of the street frontage to Lower Albert Street. You can see what consent was needed for at the bottom of this posting.
The application lodged by Westfield in July 2007 contained in its assessment of effects, this statement which is a quote from the Integrated Transport Assessment (ITA) part of the application, which had been prepared by Traffic Design Group (TDG):
Then, in an email dated 1 August 2007 to Auckland City Council officers from a Senior Associate of Traffic Planning Consultants Ltd who had been asked to review the ITA part of the Westfield application, we read:
The T2 review recommends that the applicant: "is to liaise with ARTA to ensure that the location of the access does not cause any issues in relation to the proposed bus stops. This should be included as a condition of consent."
Now I don't know about you, but I read all this as meaning that two different consultances were asked to review the applicant's Integrated Transport Assessment and found it woefully inadequate in regards to the impact on existing and proposed bus services on Lower Albert Street. The advice is that the traffic access/entry points associated with the applicant's proposal "do not cause any issues in relation to the proposed bus stops", and that this be a condition of consent.
In the end, Commissioners were not provided with advice reflecting the clarity and concern expressed in early reviews of the application's ITA. Instead they read of T2's vague proposal to deal with the problem caused by the applicant's carpark traffic by relocating the bus terminals off Lower Albert Street and onto Customs Street West! Man oh man. As if such a thing is so easy - and let's not bother notifying ARTA about this as an affected party.
This is shonky.
And not even a condition of consent as suggested by T2. Instead officers recommended a nice little "advice note" to the permit. (Some of you may be aware of the significance of an advice note. Not a lot.) Advice note 8 reads:
No "musts" in this feeble advice note.Words like "should"..."consider"...."unduly compromise"...suffice as far as Auckland City Council officers were concerned. This is would be a joke if it wasn't so tragic.
And now we have the situation where Precinct Properties holds a consent that presumably still allows it to build a double width crossing into Lower Albert Street, AND Auckland Council have decided to dispense with the bus terminal in Lower Queen Street and relocate half of it into Lower Albert, alongside the bus stops that are already there. Man oh man. I think I can see the rationale now for Queen Elizabeth Square. To sell it unencumbered, the bus terminal on it had to be relocated. Don't really care where. Will deal with that problem later. One thing at a time. Top priority is to liquidate Queen Elizabeth Square....
And then there's the related decision to shoe-horn the other half of the Lower Queen Street bus terminal into the little pedestrian-friendly laneways that we fought so hard to retain in the Britomart Precinct.
Sorry guys, but this is not good planning. Check out the bottom bullet point here.
So what to do about buses?
Not enough room in this post for that question. But I'd suggest for a start, that the solution lies in the treatment of Custom Street West and perhaps its intersection with Lower Albert Street. And that the time for the work is at the same time as CRL enabling work at that intersection, and that it involves strategic undergrounding of buses and bus infrastructure there. This is more of a transport priority now, as CRL enabling works advance, than de-tuning Quay Street.