'Auckland's main street is a disgrace' - Auckland Council official sued over Queen St pedestrian trial saga

Tom Dillane, NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Thu, 29 Apr 2021, 9:26AM
(Photo / NZ Herald)
(Photo / NZ Herald)

'Auckland's main street is a disgrace' - Auckland Council official sued over Queen St pedestrian trial saga

Tom Dillane, NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Thu, 29 Apr 2021, 9:26AM

Disgruntled businesses and property owners have filed an unprecedented High Court action against Auckland Council to stop the ongoing Queen St pedestrian trial they argue is illegal and has caused "significant economic harm".

At 5pm yesterday, lawyers for the Save the Queen Street incorporated society walked into Auckland Council's Albert St city headquarters to serve them with judicial review proceedings.

The society is applying for an injunction to halt a new $1.1 million "makeover" to the existing Queen St barriers beginning May 10 they argue is unlawful.

The Save the Queen Street society is made up of 13 committee members including property owners and business figures who sit at the executive level of companies worth billions of dollars - including Hallensteins Glasson fashion chain and property investor Andrew Krukziener.

But the legal proceedings also have the support of around 80 small businesses and Uber, taxi and delivery drivers who object to the ongoing disruption to Queen St.

The once grandest shopping strip in the country has been reduced to two lanes by "plastic sticks" and bollards since April 2020.

The pylons were originally erected as Covid-19 social distancing barriers that council decided to keep as a means of fast-tracking a Queen St pedestrianisation trial.

In the High Court memorandum served to Auckland Council and Auckland Transport (AT), Save the Queen Street barrister Sam Lowery opens with the statement: "Auckland's main street is a disgrace".

"For the last year, Queen St has resembled a construction site, cluttered with low quality, temporary road furniture including hit sticks, concrete bollards, road cones and multi-coloured road markings.

Queen St in Auckland Central has been subjected to ongoing works and barriers in the name of a pedestrian trial since early 2020. Photo / Sylvie Whinray

"The effect on Queen St has been profound. Foot traffic has dropped by almost half. Retailers have experienced a significant drop in revenue. There are more empty storefronts in Queen St than at any time in living memory. Auckland's 'Golden Mile' is a shambles."

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has until now not commented directly on the brewing Queen St legal action but last night told the Herald an injunction would delay Council's $1.1m makeover of the street.

"It's ironic that an injunction would mean that we are unable to put the high-quality improvements in place to replace the temporary measures that those bringing the action were so opposed to," Goff said.

"It is unfortunate for the many Aucklanders and businesses who want to see Queen St improved for pedestrians, that this work may be delayed until these legal proceedings are dealt with."

Align Chiropractic owner Dr Brian Kelly in his offices above Queen St. Photo / Sylvie Whinray

The Save the Queen Street judicial review argues the installation of new Queen St "makeover" works are unlawful and build upon the already unlawful installation of the original Covid-19 plastic pylons in 2020.

Installing new temporary Queen St works "will create 'facts on the ground' that may undermine the opportunity for open-minded consultation" for the permanent future of the street, the society argues.

The Save the Queen Street society ultimately wants the pedestrian barriers totally pulled out until a higher quality solution can be provided than the $1.1m boardwalks, seating and native plants upgrades proposed on April 16.

Among the legal proceedings served to Auckland Council are affidavits from small business owners and Auckland central business association, Heart of the City (HOTC), chief executive Viv Beck.

Beck says she repeatedly expressed concern to Auckland Mayor Goff and AT chief executive Shane Ellison over the Queen St Covid-19 barriers during 2020, but was ignored.

Vacant retail premises on Auckland's Queen St.Photo / Michael Craig

She says over 80 per cent of HOTC member responses oppose the Covid-19 barriers and there was "no consultation" at all from council when they decided to retain them as a pedestrian pilot in June, 2020.

Lindsay Sweeney has owned Mint drycleaners on Queen St since 2014 and said in her affidavit that insufficient space for quick customer pick-ups and increased overheads from delayed delivery drop-offs has significantly contributed to their 30 per cent drop in revenue from this time last year.

"I think the way the council is managing traffic around the CBD is appalling. They act without any regard for businesses who operate in the area," Sweeney said.

Align Chiropractic owner Dr Brian Kelly says in his affidavit the Queen St barriers are "a serious safety hazard for all road users - drivers and pedestrians alike. I am sure that this will soon be the cause of a serious or fatal accident."

Property investor Andrew Krukziener has ownership stakes in three Queen St buildings and says there has never so many empty stores in his lifetime - estimating about 26 per cent of storefronts unoccupied currently.

Krukziener said in his affidavit the Covid-19 works are "exacerbating the economic challenges faced by Queen St businesses" and they want a return to how the street was in 2019.

Save the Queen Street has 295 official members and over 1000 people support the cause on their Facebook page created in early April.

The Russell McVeagh and Bankside Chambers legal team of the Save the Queen Street society will meet at the High Court at 10am this morning for a first call requesting an "urgent" hearing next week.