Business group shocked by 'appalling' Queen St changes

A CBD business group says new plans to revamp Queen St are "appalling" and will hurt local retailers, endanger cyclists and make journeys unreliable for both motorists and public transport users.

The plans were unveiled on Friday, the council asking for public feedback on parts of it.

Plastic sticks and stone boxes put in to help with physical distancing in the wake of COVID-19 will be replaced with seating and plants, and the widened footpaths put in as a trial.

Parts of the city's main drag will be closed off to private vehicles with expanded bus lanes, with more public transport expected to be routed through Queen St with surrounding streets closed off due to construction on the City Rail Link.

How Auckland Council wants Queen St to look.
How Auckland Council wants Queen St to look. Photo credit: Supplied

The strip of road past the Town Hall, for example, will be off-limits, northbound traffic forced to reroute down Mayoral Dr. 

"You can't get dropped at the Town Hall," Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck told The AM Show on Tuesday, calling the proposals a "fail". 

"This should have been a great piece of work... We've got a growing city, we've got scarce space, we want to create beautiful places for people... but it has to work."

Beck said no thought appears to have gone into how deliveries will operate, with loading zones removed to make way for more bus lanes and pedestrian areas "no one's using". 

Cyclists will also be expected to share lanes with buses, she said.

"It's so complicated... the danger is this could have slipped in, and before you know it we can't go to the Town Hall by a cab." 

Mayor Phil Goff said the changes would be "trialled before permanent changes are made once we receive feedback from businesses, shoppers, visitors and residents". 

"The changes proposed won't solve all the problems," he said in a statement. "The council, property owners, businesses and residents will need to work together to help the area recover from COVID-19 and to become an exciting and vibrant place to visit and shop."

Councillor Chris Darby, chair of the planning committee, said the pandemic "took the shine" off Queen St.

"This, combined with remote working, meant the number of people visiting our golden mile fell away more dramatically than elsewhere. 

"We want to attract people into Queen St. Rather than a drive-through space, we are creating a go-to place, with social life as its anchor. Cities work best when they are created by and for everybody, so we have used a co-design process to understand people’s hopes and ideas for the heart of the city.

"The changes will be backed up by events and ideas to stimulate interest and activity in the newly-created environments, bringing much-needed life on the street - with people meeting, watching, engaging, enjoying and spending."

Auckland Transport said aside from a strip between Wakefield St and Wellesley St, loading bays would still be available on Queen St - if not in the northbound lane, then at least in the south. 

Beck isn't convinced, saying the changes made to help stop people catching COVID-19 aren't what the street actually needs in the long-term.

"We've ended up now where no one is going to win."

Viv Beck.
Viv Beck. Photo credit: The AM Show

In a separate interview, Darby told RNZ international evidence shows restricting private vehicle access to business areas doesn't hurt them economically. 

"It's people that actually spend, not cars. We've seen this all around the world, where you make cities more attractive for people, and you create places for people and anchor human life in the city... they become way more attractive, [and] people linger and spend."

While there will be more buses around, they'll be quieter and cleaner - the CityLink going fully electric by the end of April.

Consultation on the proposals ends on May 7, and the changes are expected to be rolled out from late May.