Angry landlords and business executives have launched legal action against Auckland Council in a bid to halt Queen St's ongoing pedestrianisation trial - a move Mayor Phil Goff has slated as "ironic" and "unfortunate".
The Save the Queen Street incorporated society has filed a High Court action against Auckland Council, seeking an injunction to stop a proposed redesign of Queen St, the city's primary retail thoroughfare. The trial - with a $1.1 million price tag - will restrict general traffic and increase pedestrian areas between Customs Street and Shortland Street to make the area more attractive to shoppers, with the upgrades set to commence on May 10.
In April 2020, cones and Day-Glo plastic sticks were placed on Queen St to encourage physical distancing as New Zealand battled its outbreak of COVID-19. But much to the dismay of local businesses, Auckland Council decided to retain the cones as makeshift traffic barriers to advance its plans for the pedestrianisation trial - exacerbating businesses' economic woes amid the ongoing pandemic.
This April, the council unveiled its plans to replace the plastic sticks, stone blocks and temporary footpaths with wide boardwalks, seating and native plants - changes that would be trialled before undertaking a permanent revamp.
Parts of the main drag will also be closed off to private vehicles with expanded bus lanes, with more public transport expected to be routed through Queen St. It's understood cyclists will be expected to share the lanes.
In January, the New Zealand Herald reported the council and Auckland Transport (AT) were drawing up plans to eliminate through-traffic from Queen St within the next six months, converting the thoroughfare into two bus-only sections to "remove end-to-end through-traffic". No-car zones are expected to appear by the middle of 2021, it said.
But the Save Queen Street committee, comprising 13 members - including property investor Andrew Krukziener and Glassons founder Tim Glasson - argues the changes are unlawful. It says the disruption is causing "significant economic harm", with about 80 small businesses - as well as Uber, taxi, and delivery drivers - supporting the legal proceedings.
In the High Court memorandum served to Auckland Council and AT - obtained by the New Zealand Herald - Save the Queen Street lawyer Sam Lowery declares the 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," the memo reads.
"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."
Although the council cannot comment on legal proceedings before the court, Goff said an injunction would be "ironic".
"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," he said in a statement to Newshub.
"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."
The Save the Queen Street society wants to scrap the changes implemented over the past year and begin a new discussion on the future of the street. The society's legal team was scheduled to meet at the High Court at 10am on Thursday to request an "urgent" hearing next week.