Lively debate over sale of square
Telling a private company what to do with Queen Elizabeth Square would kill future development, a councillor says.
A debate over the prime downtown space has reignited after Auckland Council began looking to sell it to Precinct Properties in May.
The commercial property manager wants to develop a 1ha chunk of land stretching from Wynyard Quarter to the square, including a major revamp of the Downtown shopping centre.
The council ‘‘agreed in principle’’ on May 15 to negotiate the sale of the square in return for proceeds being used to provide ‘‘quality downtown public spaces’’.
But councillor Chris Darby says more investigation is needed.
Back in 1977 the former Ministry of Works and Development labelled the square a ‘‘failure’’ but Darby says council needs to know why it has failed.
Two options for the square’s future were offered – keep and enhance it, or lose it to redevelopment.
Darby says open space is important to the estimated 40,000 central city residents as well as commuters, students and visitors.
The square has hosted protests, markets and small concerts but is now home to courier vans in the morning, Darby says.
At a meeting last Thursday, councillor Penny Webster told council it cannot stifle investment such as this.
‘‘I just think we’ve got to be very careful. You yourself, Mr Mayor, have said how wonderful it is that overseas investors are coming into this city, they’re going to do things in this city we can’t afford to do.
‘‘So with one hand we say: ‘We like them’, on the other hand we say: ‘Well actually no, you’ve got to conform to what we want you to do because we’re a pack of politicians who are very, very good engineers, very, very good planners and the staff don’t know what they’re talking about’.’’
Orakei councillor Cameron Brewer says work is under way to ensure a good return on the sale of the public space.
‘‘Yes, there were a number of us to 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,’’ he says.
‘‘We’ve always got the opportunity when the proposition comes back from Precinct Properties, if it’s not up to the mark we can reject it.’’
Any sale of the square must align with the council’s 20-year vision for the city centre, he says.
Darby says any time debate about the square occurs it is quickly shut down.
‘‘Now I’m not wanting to sit around here and be bludgeoned by blindness. I want us to go into this eyes wide open and that’s where Aucklanders expect us to be going.’’
Darby’s call for further investigation into the square’s sale fell on deaf ears with more than half of councillors voting against his motion.
Future unknown: Downtown’s Queen Elizabeth Square has hosted many protests and rallies over the years. Auckland Council is looking to sell the site to Precinct Properties.