23 Nov 2023

Auckland carpark sale plan has councillors at odds

6:23 pm on 23 November 2023
The council says public consultation is needed before the carpark can be sold.

The Downtown Carpark. Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

A chaotic day at council has provided little clarity of what the future has in store for the city's Downtown Carpark.

Tensions flared at Auckland Council as the governing body met to go over plans to sell the carpark, raising concerns and jeers from some around the council table.

The building is on Fanshawe and Lower Hobson streets, and has been a sore spot for the council, with a number of central city groups objecting to the sale. Some are even threatening legal action if it goes ahead.

Three years ago, the council approved the sale of the Downtown Carpark and requested its development branch to complete an open market competitive sale process, supported by Auckland Transport.

On Thursday councillors clashed with Mayor Wayne Brown, calling for transparency and consistency.

The meeting got off to a fiery start, with Councillor Mike Lee locking horns with the mayor.

"I'm trying to speak for people wanting to participate in public forum," he said.

"Please behave or I'll have you removed," Brown said in response.

Councillors who raised concerns about plan to sell Downtown Carpark.

Councillors raised concerns about the plan to sell Downtown Carpark. Photo: Finn Blackwell / RNZ

Lee questioned Brown on the sale plans.

"The point of order relates to your interpretation of the standing order, which says the item regarding the Downtown Carpark on the open agenda, and the secret part of it in confidential, has already been decided," Lee said.

"If that's the case we can all go home now, but patently that is not true."

Others chimed in, wanting to hear from groups like central city business association Heart of the City and the Save Queen Street Society.

Society member and property developer Andrew Krukziener had previously threatened legal action against council if the carpark went. Yelling from the public gallery, he urged the council to show some transparency.

"Transparency is a key part of governance," he said. "You are demonstrating a gross lack of transparency in the way this meeting is being conducted, it is despicable."

The groups had been denied a chance to speak in the meeting's public input section, much to the ire of some councillors and members of the public gallery.

"It's shameful, abuse of process mayor, and abuse of our swearing in of office," Lee said.

But Brown was unrelenting.

"There will be plenty of opportunity for discussion and debate during the appropriate part of the day. Please behave - this is not a kindergarten, you're all paid to be here."

The discussion included whether or not a new buyer would have to build a micro-mobility hub for bikes and scooters, which was a part of the original proposal.

Precinct Properties was selected in September of 2022 by the council's development arm, Eke Panuku, at the end of the sales process as the preferred development partner.

Councillor Christine Fletcher alleged that saying the issue had already been determined was misinformation.

Brown bit back, saying he had been advised on how to proceed.

"I am giving the results of information which I have been given by lawyers and this is what I'm supposed to be doing, so that's what we're doing."

Fletcher said she had been misinformed by previous council officers when the proposal was initially put forward.

"I believe that I have been wrongly advised by council officers in the preceding meetings that have led up to this."

Wayne Brown.

Wayne Brown. Photo: Finn Blackwell / RNZ

Fletcher wanted to delay discussion on the carpark, and said there were more considerations that needed to be raised.

"I think it's unfortunate that it is so difficult in this place to raise issues of objection. It would be very easy for those who do support what's happening today to mock those of us who have got genuine concerns."

Amid the noise, Councillor Angela Dalton took a moment to try and ease tempers around the table, calling on Lee to apologise to his colleague Shane Henderson for earlier singling him out.

"Could we please not yell and shout at this meeting... I'd ask councillor Lee to please refrain and apologise to Councillor Henderson."

The public debate came to a close after a confidential section of Thursday's meeting was called so council could discuss the commercially sensitive details of the sale process, but not before some councillors attempted to defer, delay, and object to doing so.

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