Saturday, 15 May 2021

Queen Street negotiations break down, court date confirmed

Talks over the future of Queen St have broken down. Tomorrow, the lobby group Save Queen Street will file papers in the Auckland High Court, seeking an injunction to stop all council work on the street.

The Save Queen Street Society (SQSS) advised Auckland Council last week that it would seek the injunction, but the two sides then agreed to talks and the legal action was put on hold.

The lobby group is also seeking a judicial review of council decisions about the street during and after the first Covid-19 lockdown.

SQSS and council staff met for five hours on Monday and for several more hours today. Save Queen Street presented a list of demands, including an end to all further work for the next 10 years unless certain conditions were met.

Council has now rejected those demands. That has triggered the group to seek the injunction tomorrow.

Matt Blomfield, a lawyer acting for the group, told the Herald, “Unfortunately we have been unable to reach a resolution with Auckland Council. We are disappointed and what remains is for the court to decide. We will see them in court tomorrow at 10am.”

Auckland mayor Phil Goff said, “Auckland Council and Auckland Transport have in good faith, attempted to work with SQSS on the issues it has raised over a number of meetings across several days. Unfortunately, common ground could not be reached without compromising the outcome for Queen St and the thousands of Aucklanders who live, work, study and shop there.”

Last year, Auckland Council and Auckland Transport reduced the number of traffic lanes on Queen St and widened the footpaths to allow for social distancing among pedestrians. They also built raised “tables” out from the footpaths at bus stops, to allow passsengers to get on and off the buses.

After the lockdowns had passed, council retained the temporary street layout, on the basis that it would soon be introducing trials for a new street design.

At the time, council said it would cost $800,000 to remove the bus passenger tables and other work, and it was better to move forwards, rather than go back.

Save Queen Street, however, wants all that work removed and the street restored to its earlier status. That means it will have at least four lanes for its entire length, with more on-street parking.

Goff, responding to the breakdown in talks, told the Herald, “We want a Queen St for people to enjoy. There is no need to have four lanes of roadway for that.”

This year, council has revealed plans for the first trial of its new design, a $1.1 million makeover of the bottom end of the street, between Customs St and Shortland St.

This design allows a single lane for buses and other vehicles, with wider footpaths constructed in a boardwalk style similar to High St. There will be extensive planting and “quality” wooden street furniture. A “pocket park” will be created at the intersection with Fort St.

The trial is part of a larger plan for the central city, called Access for Everyone (A4E), which seeks to prioritise pedestrians and restrict access to the centre of the city to essential vehicles. Go-around routes would be developed for those who currently drive through the city.

A4E, in turn, is part of the council’s City Centre Masterplan, which was consulted on and adopted unanimously by council in 2020.

“The CCMP received 76 per cent support during consultation and we’re not prepared to compromise on what it can deliver and ignore the views of other stakeholders,” said Goff.

Work on the trial is due to start within weeks. But if Save Queen Street’s injunction succeeds, that will not happen.

The talks have involved senior staff from council and Auckland Transport, led by Jim Stabback, the council’s CEO, and Barry Potter, the council’s head of infrastructure. Potter has been in charge of the Queen St project.

Goff was not present at either meeting, and nor were any elected councillors.

The Save Queen Street group is led by Queen St property owner Andrew Krukziener. Its members include some other landlords and retailers, and it is supported in the legal action by the business group Heart of the City.

Some prominent Aucklanders earlier identified with the group have dissociated themselves. Architect Pip Cheshire, who led the design work in the Britomart precinct, told the Herald he was keen to see a “beautiful” Queen St, but has never attended a Save Queen Street meeting and does not support the legal action.

“I feel p*ssed off,” he said. “The city is, or was, working towards a coherent scheme, involving buses, cycling, walking, and cars are a part of it. But there are some really big infrastructure projects going on and I think we should cut the city a bit of slack while they’re completed.”

The Herald understands the general manager of Robert Jones Holdings, Greg Loveridge, has also disassociated himself from the group. Loveridge could not be contacted for comment.

During the talks, Save Queen Street said it was prepared to allow the trial at the bottom of the street to proceed. But that had to mean the rest of the street was restored to its condition prior to 2020.

There was agreement that non-essential vehicles should have limited access, and that essential vehicles needed access. They include emergency vehicles, Ubers and other ride shares, taxis, service vans, couriers and buses.

But Save Queen St demanded that no other work would be done on the street for 10 years, and added “limousines” to its list of essential vehicles.

If the injunction succeeds, all vehicles will have access at all times.

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