Here's an archive photo of Little Queen Street looking north from Custom Street. You can see through to the Ferry Building - a view since blocked by the Air New Zealand Tower - now known as HSBC Tower.
When Auckland Harbour Board (which owned all of the land - but not the streets), planned to redevelop the site it needed to remove the street (by "stopping" it), to form a site wide enough to support the large footprint of the proposed tower. At the time Auckland City Council, which was the road controlling authority, permitted the "stopping" of Little Queen Street on condition that an equivalent land area - which was still zoned "road" - was provided within the overall block of land. This is what is now known as Queen Elizabeth Square.
Interestingly, Auckland Harbour Board (AHB) occupied several floors of the new Air NZ Tower. Over time it sub-leased more and more of the new building to other commercial tenants, until it needed and built a new headquarter building for itself: the space age edifice at the base of Prince Wharf. Also interestingly, in the Planning Tribunal appeal opposing AHB's new HQ (brought by the Copthorne Hotel owners across Quay Street), AHB argued that the new HQ building was needed because there wasn't enough room in the Air New Zealand Tower for its staff. Judge Sheppard granted consents conditional on AHB not sub-leasing any of the commercial space. But only a few years later POAL had sub-leased the whole building....
great article about what happened to Kennedy's designs and AHB politics in the Journal of the NZ Institute of Architects by retired architect Dennis Smith.
Basically AHB wanted a more intensive and lucrative development with more commercial office-space than was envisaged in the Kennedy plans. However its proposals attracted considerable opposition including from the Auckland Architecture Association Inc. They even commissioned a wind tunnel model to demonstrate the proposed tower would cause strange winds over QE Square.
The Bulletin's content suggests Auckland's architects were an active lot in those days. Very engaged in what was happening. The issue even reproduces the words of the Tony Hatch song, To the City, which include: "When you're all alone, and life is making you lonely, you can always go - DOWNTOWN... forget all your care and go - DOWNTOWN... No finer place for sure DOWNTOWN. Everything's waiting for you..."
Sadly, the AAA submissions fell on deaf ears at Auckland City Council, who would have been strongly influenced by Auckland Harbour Board if the Princes Wharf and HQ building projects are anything to go by. So the Air NZ Tower was built where we see it today. Queen Elizabeth's likely success (or failure) as a public square was anticipated almost 50 years ago. The Ministry of Works report investigating Walking Around Town in 1977 (reported in this posting) simply echoes the predictions of the Auckland Architectural Association made a decade earlier.
Basically their collective plan is to sell Queen Elizabeth Square (after it has been "stopped" - like Little Queen Street was stopped 50 years ago), and allow Precinct to develop the entire block without providing any public space or square - though it would build a Laneway mapped here (between the "D" and Albert Street - Precinct render of Laneway shown below).
The deal is that Council would get $27 million for QE Square, which it says it could/would expend on new public spaces at 2 or more of the spaces labelled A, B or C in this diagram (reproduced from a Council report). Lower Queen Street (D) would no longer function as the downtown bus terminal. The current bus terminal would be split half into and around Britomart, and half in Lower Albert Street (though no detailed images or traffic movements have been provided by Auckland Transport). Buses would apparently come in and out of Tyler and Commerce Streets and would affect the north and south ends of Lower Queen Street - but the central area of Lower Queen Street should be free of traffic and could function as public space - albeit a windy corridor when all of its western edge is developed to between 4 and 6 stories.
Concerns have been expressed about the alternative areas A, B and C:
- these spaces are already in public ownership;
- nothing has been done about plans to pedestrianise Quay Street (public statements about this go back 30 years but nothing has been done);
- obtaining Admiralty Steps from POAL ("C") would merely result in a money-go-round where monies paid by Council to POAL increase POAL's dividend which goes back to Council;
- areas "A" and "B" are above the seawall there which needs to be repaired. Is the $27 million really to fix the seawall - essential coastal maintenance - with an incidental public pavement on top?
Fundamentally the question is: what are we getting in the way of good quality urban public space to compensate for the loss of QE Square? Waterfront spaces such as A, B and C are valuable public spaces, but they are different in quality and function to an urban public space. Auckland Central is desperately short of urban squares - as Council's Urban Reset study reports.
Register Retail Intelligence website carries the image shown here with this text: "An artist's impression of what the retail sector in the development will look like. Presentations to potential retail clients have begun and the company is looking for both established and emerging New Zealand retailers. The company said in its presentation it plans to have a mix of premium and high-end apparel retailers...."
This laneway might be publicly accessible space, but it is like an enclosed mall in function, character and feel. It will exclude behaviours that would be tolerated and accepted in an open and genuinely public square.
When the Britomart Precinct was redeveloped provision for internal public space was planned. This paved the way for Takutai Square. Something like that - at the very least - needs to be an essential part of the planning for the Downtown Precinct.
This is not an urban design issue.
This is now an urban planning issue.
Our city authorities have a duty to provide and maintain public spaces and places for all city citizens and their behaviours. These spaces need to be inclusive and not exclusive. They need to provide for mum and dad and the kids, pensioners sitting and watching the world go by, out of the wind and in the sun. Places to meet and greet and sit and read a book. Not just places for shoppers.
The fact there has been so little public engagement by Council about Downtown planning (and here the bar has been set by Wellington City Council with its Waterfront Planning Framework, and Waterfront Auckland with its Wynyard Quarter Framework) is reflected in the priority accorded by Council to the CRL project and the prospect of Auckland Council Property Ltd (now part of Development Auckland) getting $27 million for QE Square. Public space planning has fallen by the wayside Downtown.
That is why a group of incorporated societies with public interest objectives have stepped up to challenge the process. Check out the Auckland Architecture Association editorial and submission links here.