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Viv Beck: Queen St gets the short stick in post-Covid land grab

Thursday 9 Jul 2020

First published in the New Zealand Herald on 9 July 2020.

There is a saying that it's not only what you do, but how you do it that matters most. That couldn't be more true with a debate raging along Queen St right now.

While it's obviously not top of mind for many Aucklanders dealing with an economic crisis, the principles at stake will resonate with many - transparency, trust, respect, quality, delivery.

The story goes like this: just before the move from level 4 to level 3, there was a scramble to get emergency physical distancing measures into Queen St.

The works, including orange cones (later changed to white plastic sticks), are poor quality and unattractive but Auckland Transport promised they would be removed at the end of level 2 when physical distancing was no longer required.

Unfortunately, this decision was overridden and Auckland Council has decided, without any discussion with businesses trying to get back on their feet after lockdown, to keep the works in and accelerate a concept called "Access for Everyone".

This is a bit like starting with an apple and working out how to turn it into a pear.

Access for Everyone is an innovative idea to make the city centre better for people while ensuring that essential traffic can still get where it needs to go easily.

With the growth expected in future and space becoming increasingly scarce, we need to think differently about access. And, thinking about beautiful streets around the world that you can't tear yourself away from and you remember forever – imagine that for Queen St.

With so much development already under way, it's important that this is done well – thinking holistically about access across the city centre and "co-designing" how it will work. This means businesses, residents and other groups working together to determine objectives, scope and the overall "look" while working through issues that need to be addressed.

This approach has worked well in High St and we'd like to see it go well for Queen St too.

However, we are flabbergasted that the council is pressing on with the emergency works in the knowledge that businesses on the street have some significant concerns.

These concerns relate to the poor quality and unappealing look, safety issues, the impact of closing Fort St, without considering the consequences on people using the shared space, and many more.

Given all the issues businesses are facing right now, the last thing they need is more stress.

Those pushing to get this through quickly are saying that the businesses don't know what they are missing, it will be fabulous – just trust us.

Well, we did. We trusted that Auckland Transport would work with stakeholders before making significant changes to a major street. We trusted Auckland Transport when they said the works were temporary and would be removed. We trusted that Auckland Council would respect the businesses enough to show interest in the impact these works are having on their Covid-affected lives.

To add insult to injury, Auckland Council has now said they intend making "improvements" to the emergency works, meanwhile expecting businesses to trust the co-design process.

If the council had said to us, let's understand the concerns of the businesses, let's meet them and see whether we can work through the issues – that might have been different.

But instead, it is determined to go ahead with changes in advance of the co-design process, which will only start later in the month.

That is a long time for a business to live with a mess in a Covid-affected market. It also reeks of a pre-determined outcome.

I'm sure businesses in nearby Albert St would have some advice for their neighbours in Queen St about trust, respect and delivery after protracted pleas for better management of construction, mess and access during the building of the City Rail Link.

Clearly, we will need to find a way through this to improve access in the city centre and ensure Queen St is enhanced in a way that befits its significant role.

I believe all those hard-working business people out there deserve much better from Auckland Council.