No light at end of tunnel – for now
THERE’S a special piece of history buried right underneath our city.
And it could also be an answer to some of our inner-city traffic woes.
Advocate Bill Reid is keen to open the former air raid shelter tunnels below Albert Park, which he’s convinced would make the perfect link between Parnell and the CBD.
But Auckland Council is not convinced there is a viable business case for the venture which it says could damage any historic references.
Reid began investigating how to get the tunnels reopened in 1976. Almost 40 years have passed and he’s still pushing Auckland Council to come to the party.
‘‘I used to cross the park as a third and fourth form student,’’ Reid says. ‘‘I’d come across the green domes and wondered what they were for – someone told me they were air ventilation shafts.
‘‘Due to my curious nature I went and had a look but couldn’t find any tunnel entrances.’’
The Albert Park Tunnels were built as air raid shelters during World War II. It took 114 men and eight months to build an intricate 3.5km tunnel system which could fit 22,000 people.
Thankfully for Auckland’s residents, they were never needed.
Once the war ended, they were deemed of little use and, to prevent collapse, were filled in with 8 million clay blocks.
Reid says the main tunnel, which is 600m long and 4m wide, would perfectly link the CBD with Parnell and wants to see it turned into a tourist attraction, possibly with a tram running through it and even glow worms.
In 1998 Reid also came up with a design for a walkway from the car park on Kitchener St to the tunnel with designated tourist bus parking.
‘‘The tunnels will be open at some stage – they have to be,’’ he says.
‘‘It’s part of Auckland’s history, it’s right in the CBD and would become a great tourist attraction.’’
Reid spent almost $10,000 in 1998 to open the entrance of tunnel No 6 to take a look at the blocks. The door has since been welded shut.
Reid says an independent feasibility study estimates the tunnel project would cost $6 million and he is now looking at private funding alternatives.
‘‘That is cheap for a tourist attraction,’’ Reid says. ‘‘This year 72 cruise ships will come into the harbour for a short visit, they’ve got nowhere to go.’’
Reid has had no luck in his dealings with past and present councils – none of which have been keen to fund the project.
Local and Sports Parks Central manager Jane Aickin says the issue is under constant review.
‘‘However, based on extensive discussions and investigations, there is currently no viable business case or appetite to open the tunnels for transportation or tourism purposes.’’
Aickin says the proposal has significant heritage challenges and it isn’t clear these could be overcome.
Bill Reid, right, is on a crusade to reopen the Albert Park Tunnels. He is standing outside the No 6 tunnel entry.
It took just eight months for workers to complete the project.
Some of the bricks used to seal the tunnels.