Lively de­bate over sale of square

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By JESS ETHERIDGE

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.

Photo: SHANE WENZLICK

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.

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