Chance To Cleanup CBD Killed Off


One of the tragedies behind the Government’s refusal to approve the CBD TaniwhaLink™ (credit Patrick R) is that it further delays much needed resurgence in seedy parts of Auckland’s inner city.

The Government chicken and egg line is that the Auckland (Spatial) Plan has to come first, before the link so that the new Council reaches a consensus about growth in the region and determines priorities.
Yet agreement has already been made about certain spots in the inner Auckland city area - areas that have been neglected and need urgent resuscitation.
This thinking was behind part of the decision to pinpoint where the rail stations on the CBD link would be - areas that also had the less upheaval likely both in times of buildings having to re-locate and construction limits with Auckland’s often difficult volcanic terrain.
The need to save Upper Symonds St in the process of getting a rail link was a stroke of genius:

The Newton station would be in Symonds St between Khyber Pass Rd and Mt Eden Road.

The station cavern would be 43 metres below 43 metres below street level. It’s what would be happening above land that is crucial.
The entrance would be on the corner of Symonds and Khyber Pass with a secondary entrance on the western end of Symonds.

Upper Symonds St is an area that has been criminally neglected and mismanaged for years and is an eye-saw that makes you want to pass through quickly. It, like too many spots in Auckland, lacks soul. In other liveable cities, you could imagine it being a trendy hub of interesting places and cafes.

Oldtimers will tell you it was a bustling community in the pre-liberalised liquor law days when two rival pubs opposite each hour provided drinking spots for workers before the pubs shut at 6pm.

When the motorway development and Dominion Rd flyover went through, houses gave way to small industrial areas and people vanished, leaving the rundown shopping area useful only as a mere transit multi bus stop.

Originally the plan was to build the Sky Tower near the corner of Khyber and Symonds. The original developers were the fast growing gobble-up-everything and run it cheaply and then flick it crowd called Brierley.
They bought land there for the casino and it was their preferred place for it.

But it met strong public opposition and from some councillors because it would have challenged site lines to Mt Eden and diminished the prominence of that iconic cone.

A land swap was done. Controversially, the Council gave land it owned - the block between Victoria and Wellesley Sts -  to them in return for the land the casino had bought in Upper Symonds.

The council had been saving the land for - you guessed it - a transport hub.

Only then was a casino licence granted in January 1994. Construction started almost immediately and the SkyTower casino opened in February 1996.
The rest of the SkyTower story is history we all know with the casino this week getting permission to expand even further in return for government gambling concessions.
Had the casino been built in Symonds, one could imagine the surrounding area becoming home to Triads and Triads-wannabes; a nasty one of pseudo-casino gambling dens, dingy bars, P deals and massage parlours,traces of which are already around the existing SkyTower.

One could imagine those Wellington brothers who recently bought the heritage tavern opposite the SkyTower to turn into a Penthouse club - the tavern that mysteriously collapsed - would have loved it and bought up the rest of the area.

After the land swap, the council got the bizarre idea of turning it into an Asian apartment zone attracting hundreds of Chinese students and creating some sort of mini China town.

A Hong Kong developer, with council blessing, set about to turn it into the type of terraced housing estate he said Chinese would enjoy.

In a typical Auckland development story, it didn’t happen as he did not reach his sales threshold for his residential development.
Another development company bought it and put together a new design for the residential component, with multi levels along with street retail.

They went ahead and built the out of place and hideous apartment blocks near the corner of Khyber and Symonds - blocks that today feel in keeping with the equally appalling Newmarket railway apartments with its adjacent station square further down the road that gets criticised here regularly!.

The garish multi-coloured block looks like that dreadful Tip Top creation for children’s birthday parties - multi-coloured Neopolitan icecream.

Around the corner at the start of Khyber Pass is the hideous arcade at the entrance of what is now called Outsource Tower. That arcade is about to lose its anchor, the PostShop in the latest NZPost cutbacks because foot traffic is so low.
It is an unfriendly cheap and nasty maze that looks as if it was built with materials from the $2 shop.

On both sides of the street are very rundown old buildings that one could imagine only rats inhabit and only fervent over protective historic place advocates would dream of saving.

Some of the shops there seem forever empty or businesses short lived and occasional attempts to create a K Rd bohemian chic there with niche fashion stores by young budding designers or crafts seem always destined to fail. Cheap rent, wrong place, wrong time.

Further down on the corner with Mt Eden Rd, a one time funeral parlour never seems to be able to lose its uncomfortable past. Diners obviously felt uneasy dining there. The restaurant has closed and other shops struggle.
A gluten free grocer near the start of Mt Eden Rd serves an important food niche but needs to be better located such as in Ponsonby or Grey Lynn to reach customers and a cafe a few days down is an odd spot of coolness for the area because when you walk past, you’re likely to see visible evidence it’s a haven for nearby TV3 staff who must struggle in the dingy neighbourhood for the lifestyle they crave.

Like Symonds, few businesses in the area seem to resonate for passing clientele.
Like the ghost town of Newmarket’s Station Square, there are always empty shops in buildings that reached their used by date after the 70s.

Similarly, the planned Link rail station at Pitt St would have illuminated another dark hole.
It will be betwene K Rd and Beresford St, last I looked frequented by desperate-looking drug-fuelled looking prostitutes and glue sniffing youth at night.
Beresford Square is a meaningless strange dead-end of a street that the council introduced some years back in a bid to defer the hustling street trade, not to create a place of purpose . Goodness knows what they were thinking.
Again other cities would have created a creative space there, not abandon it to sad low life.

With the train station entrance at Beresford Square, this has the potential to actually create something- a lively people friendly square that we see so rarely in Auckland.

This transformation of the inner city is just as important as getting the rail link and was poised to be developed hand in hand.
The Government promised to boost Auckland’s economy by the creation of a super city and create the sort of better city those who live here agree they want.
Yet it put on its shades to definately be short sighted about the way Len Brown’s train plan opened possibilities in the inner city to create interesting liveable spaces with decent public transport at the doorstep.
Maybe the Government is just focused on boosting more property developers to gain from the Spatial Plan the ability to push Auckland’s growth outwards.




  1. Simon Lyall says:

    I actually like the greenish apartments on the corner. The at least look sturdy and have a bit of character.

    The ones further down Symonds St not so much though. The small fence in front of each shop makes it even harder for them to attract traffic (already hard enough with no parking and little foot traffic).

  2. kris_b says:

    Beresford isn’t quite as bad as that any more - gluesniffers have been moved on, prostitutes are more for the other side of Hopetoun Bridge.

    Not to say I don’t think it could be improved (I’d like to see it converted to a real square with removal of the traffic lane beside the Supper Club and most of the parking at the top end), but I also struggle to understand why such big above ground structures are being built for stations tens of meters underground.

  3. Carl says:

    awesome story.

    firstly those train stations, please god tell me they are not the final plans? because they like all these stupid apartment blocks look totally out of place.

    They need to be made to blend in, honestly people who design these facades, need to actually look at the history of the area.

    not some fancy big canopy, but an inviting entrance.

    Auckland has some many interesting old buildings so lets keep the theme going.

    thanks to the person that wrote this piece anyway,

    Really interesting reading, if there are any more stories like this, please put them up!

  4. DanC says:

    The upper Symonds street area sure would change if a rail station was there. Those run down but historic buildings would clean up quite well.

  5. Patrick R says:

    Nice summary Jon. Don’t see the point of the stations ‘blending in’ Carl, especially when what is there is either vile or Edwardian shop fronts. Surely you don’t want faux Edwardian? But more importantly we need these entrances to brand the new network to advertise it as new and fast and clean, the future of AK. Britomart, Newmarket, and New Lynn are already doing that and these new ones must really step that up. Then Jon’s dream of the Line leading transformation of these areas is more likely to succeed.

    Among the tragedies listed above is the demolition of the pub on the corner just so a free left turn could be put in to speed up traffic. Another case of place being sacrificed for vehicle movement. Big punk hangout I recall. Now the whole intersection is nothing but car rat run, has lost its shape and containment, and as you show is one home to ghastly low value buildings that face away from the street. No care of place by planning seemingly run by traffic engineering for vehicle privilege unrestrained.

  6. Patrick R says:

    Also the K’rd station is a great opportunity to lift the area. Beresford St should be closed and then can become a real public plaza with real public amenity at it’s heart: the station. Wouldn’t it be great to then demolish the old car parking buildings behind K’rd and develope those sites? Get the station in first, with this and increased bus priority on K the area could at last reach it’s potential as an uptown character retail and entertainment centre.

  7. Jarrod says:

    I agree with DanC completely. The upper Symonds Street buildings are run down but they would clean up really well. The area needs them.

  8. Doloras says:

    Excuse me, I understand the point you want to make, but this article is really, really snobby… even “classist”. The people who currently live, work and play in Upper Symonds Street might not be cool enough for you, but an extended rant about how the whole place is a disgusting, unredeemed hole is quite offensive.

    There are better ways to promote Newton Train Station.

  9. Matt L says:

    I used to live in the apartments that you described as Neopolitan. While I agree that the colours aren’t great, the apartments themselves are quite good and are a decent size, it was the kind of apartment we need more of (our apartment had two bedrooms, two bathrooms plus parking was underground).

    I think the location has a lot of potential and the CRL would really help unlock that.

  10. Patrick R says:

    One more point; this will happen, is happening. We are now underway with the CRL and I believe it is unstoppable.

    And it is good to point out the potential ways transit infrastructure can lead redevelopment, but remember these places have been disregarded and violated because they are undervalued by the conventional authorities.

    So I think the best way to make the CRL happen sooner is to make the existing system so good and popular that the capacity constraints of the Britomart deadend become so manifestly unworkable. This means making Integrated Ticketing real and workable, it means reorganising and timing the buses to suburban stations, it means expanding services where-ever possible, lifting frequency and reliability, but especially frequency. Extending off peak services to build a train catching culture. Improving stations where-ever possible.

    If everyone involved works hard the system should be pretty well bust by the time the EMUs are up and running and the design and protection work for the CRL is done. We should be able to force WGTN’s hand.

    Also, please don’t vote for the anti city, pro highway parties; National and Act. And we need to return Brown again.

  11. Mark says:

    I think you’re a bit hard on Upper Syminds St - it’s quite a “funky” / mixed area.

    It has a mix, which is very “Auckland” - from one of the top restaurants -French Cafe / best pub (imho) Galbraiths, good heritage buildings….all working side by side. It’s one of the nice things about Auckland that we mix it up a bit - we don’t want too many specialist enclaves for rich people going to flash restaurants.

    So while I think a station will improve the area, it must still suport the area, not redfine/remake it. My worry is the planners will rush in to go high density, and we will lose character and scale.

    A key element of CRL is “connectivity”, and then let places develop their own way. Maybe many people will want a casual/relaxed meal in K Rd before catching a train down to go to a show - or back up to K’Rd after a show etc.

    Once the CRL goes in (and it’s crucial), then people can make more choices (ie work places,entertainment etc), and areas will develop to meet that demand.

    The key is to re-use heritage buildings well, and where new buildings are needed they have good urban design, and more importantly proper quality/long term conctruction.

  12. Duncan says:

    You come off as very elitist in this piece. The heritage buildings in this area are probably it’s only redeeming feature and you want them gone?

  13. Patrick R says:

    Who said anything about getting rid of heritage buildings?

  14. Duncan says:

    John C did

    “On both sides of the street are very rundown old buildings that one could imagine only rats inhabit and only fervent over protective historic place advocates would dream of saving.”

  15. Jon C says:

    Good to get a debate going about this important issue. That is the aim.
    I have been called many things in my time but never elitist!
    I am not advocating wiping the whole landscape. I have spoken passionately many times about the need to save heritage buildings.
    But not all these buildings can be justified saving just because they are old.
    There has become a tendency by some advocates to never change anything because a building is old.

  16. Luke says:

    overwhelmingly the worst part of this area is the local roads that are designed like they are arterial routes in an industrial area. The buildings would create a very nice urban village atmosphere, but are wrecked by the traffic.
    The amount of space dedicated to cars needs to be slashed, and foothpaths widened. Heritage buildings should be kept if at all possible. Plenty of space to build medium rise buildings along what are now back sts, like upper queen st.
    Should generally remain a low to medium rise area, now skyscrapers but 5 storey office buildings would be fine.
    Pedestrian facilities on overbridges leading to the area need to be drastically changed too.
    Done in tandem with station construction this will create a really vibrant and fascinating area.

  17. James B says:

    I think 10 to 20 stories would be good further down Khyber Pass around Grafton Road and the motorway would be acceptable but keep the western slope and the Symonds Street ridge relatively clear of buildings to preserve the views of the city from and to Mt Eden.

  18. Karl says:

    I agree that some of those heritage buildings - and places like the Orange Hall on Newton Road - are really the only thing giving this place a bit of architectural character, so indeed I am a bit shocked at Jon seeming to promote tearing them down. They are only going to be replaced by more shocking glass and precast-concrete monstrosities if that happens!

    I do agree with Jon that places like that mini shopping centre - in which I have never been, and probably would not be interested even if I lived next door - are ghastly. But the real elephant in the room are the overwidth Symonds and Khyber Pass streets, and the nearby motorway dominance, and the rabbit hutch cookie cutter “houses” that are nestled like a factory forest in the crook between Symonds and Khyber (behind the apartment buildings discussed in the post - have a look on Google Earth). Those little houses are actually even located in a gated community, which only adds insult to injury.

    Some good urban planning will be key to make sure that revitalisation of the area after a new rail station comes in is not just soulless Queen Str type skyscrapers for offices.

  19. Mark says:

    JonC - appreciate you didn’t advocate bowling them all.
    But as usual with “heritage”, it’s often not just about scheduling a building, but protecting the whole area and it’s character.

    The real problem is one of development economics - if you allow demolition, then the value then reflects its “potential” eg 4 storey, even though its a two storey 100 yr old building, so owner can’t get a return on its market value.

    The when it comes to bowl/build, you need greater floor space to warrant the investment / demolition/rebuild.

    It’s a tricky area to get right. Also some of the area has been developed, and there is no way a developer could justify knocking down and rebuilding some of those sites anyway.

    the good news is Samson corp own most, so we may see better protection of teh whole, along with maybe quality replacements if needed - per ironbank

  20. Jon C says:

    @Mark Understand the need to retain heritage villages. I have done posts before about the importance of protecting Balmoral, Sandringham, Kingsland etc. I would hate this area to be dominated by new highrises - already the old pub was torn down for the hideous apartments on the crn of K Pass. I am saying I do not think every tired run down shop needs to be kept. Some of them are so rundown they are passed it. Revitalisation of the area will need some fresh life into it. I have also come around to the thinking thay worthwhile old buildings need to be kept but some advocates seem to protest about every old building being demolished and some are not good buildings in the first place or practical anymore. There are some important ones in the area such as the former ASB building in K Pass.

  21. James B says:

    I think before we start tearing down old buildings we should really look at filling the vacant lots around there. Besides I don’t think any old buildings are ever passed it. There’s easily enough land in Newton to build new buildings without destroying the last remaining heritage.

  22. Carl says:

    @ Luke, what exactly are you going to put in these 5 storied office blocks?

    already plenty around the place.

    More cafe, more shops, more no chain store, give the place its feel its screaming out to be.

    I still stand on my comments about the facades of the train station.

    Inviting yes, futuristic no, wont suit and that is the issue with some many places.

    things look of place, so what if the area has strange, weird or wacky design theme that area, keep it and go with it.

    it will make people go to that area and look at things.

  23. George D says:

    Agree with other commenters here: the area is interesting, and although it is struggling a little economically, so is much of Auckland. The apartments have some presence to them, and acknowledge their environment, which is more than you can say for most apartments in Auckland.

    The most important thing is that future development potential is protected. The council should get on with designating the surrounding blocks - down as far as the brewery, to the motorway, back towards Mt Eden, and down towards Kingsland, so that development that suits the mixed nature and increased intensification of the area can occur.

    The area is a bit of a nightmare, the result of the intersection of four suburbs on a single intersection. No immediate ideas about how to solve this, unfortunately, apart from giving greater bus priority.

    What I would like to see is better pedestrian connections between Mt Eden and K Rd. Improving these intersections (through signal phase changes, and better pedestrian crossings) would help this.

  24. tbird says:

    Thanks for the interesting read. I’m not from Auckland, but have lived here about 4 years now. Nice to hear about some local history. Living in the central city I’ve walked past this area quite a bit if going to Newmarket.

    I think it’s sad that not wanting to be surrounded by glue sniffers and street prostitutes is regarded by some as “elitist”! Seriously, what low standards!

    Unfortunately many champagne socialists love to pretend they empathise with (and even glamorise) these people , which doesn’t help the druggies get over their addiction! It also makes the streets a much more dangerous place.

    In my opinion, Upper Symonds is a grotty, unsafe, unsavoury hole. It just looks ugly, it feels cold, and there’s always a march of the halfway-house junkies stumbling to their “jobs” on the Queen Street footpaths.

  25. Patrick R says:

    The first step to improving the quality of the streetlife and the urban form in these areas is to help them revive a sense of place that has been violated by them being downgraded to vehicle through routes. As Luke points out above.

    A combination of building non-car transit modes and slowing down, and hence reducing the traffic, will do wonders to build the necessary sense of place. This leads to the uncovering of hidden value in the existing environment [old buildings] and further development potential.

    Glue sniffers are never good, but the cycle of the sex trade followed by students and artists then the inevitable property developer is a well understood route to urban renewal and more than likely to happen here. And will be good for heritage, safety, employment, and prosperity, and therefore all of us.

    The best thing the council can is to sort the macro conditions especially the crazy volume and speed of vehicles through here. Oh and sort their planning rules and powers.

  26. George D says:

    Glue sniffers are never good, but the cycle of the sex trade followed by students and artists then the inevitable property developer is a well understood route to urban renewal and more than likely to happen here. And will be good for heritage, safety, employment, and prosperity, and therefore all of us.

    Indeed. If drug use or prostitution was cause to demolish parts of a city, K Rd and much of Ponsonby would be piles of rubble.

  27. KarlHansen says:

    “And will be good for heritage, safety, employment, and prosperity, and therefore all of us.”

    I’d agree with you on everything except heritage. I have not yet met many property developers who are good for heritage. For every one that keeps a historic building, there’s five who will bowl one over.

    “Indeed. If drug use or prostitution was cause to demolish parts of a city, K Rd and much of Ponsonby would be piles of rubble.”

    I assume you mean the fomer state of these suburbs, like 10-15 years ago? Because both are relatively nice areas these days. I am more afraid to be mugged or accosted at night (by drunks) in the lower (waterfront) CBD than in those two areas.

  28. Oscar says:

    It would be great if something could be done with the water reservoirs there. Maybe re-enigneer the structure slightly to enable green roofs. It could become a cool terraced roof top park.

  29. KarlHansen says:

    Oscar - nice idea, but I think it would be much better to drive some extra piles through the water reservoir to strengthen them, and then use that as building surface. A new park would be nice, but if we actually want that CBD intensification (especially with as little heritage loss as possible), we need some space on where to put up new buildings!

    The locals can use Basque Park which is slowly growing into shape after decades of neglect, and if they want to play or relax in a larger park, the Auckland Domain is barely more than 1km away by foot or bicycle. I also think improving the streetscape is much more important for local liveability than a new park. Even people who like parks will be unlikely to use it more than 1-2 times a week, but they will be on those streets several times a day.

  30. Patrick R says:

    Are you all just using the word ‘heritage’ as interchangeable with ‘old’?

    Is everything not new always better than something new?

    And what about repurposing the old, like Britomart, do you hate that too?

    Let’s give the good old buildings dynamic new lives and build fantastic new structures in between them, like Ironbank.

  31. Mark says:

    @Patrick R
    yes “heritage” is always an issue re its definition. We used to just have scheduling for iconic/old buildings, but that’s been extended to look at the wider heritage context of a grouping of buildings of similar age/style and scale. eg our town centres such as Kingsland/Mt Eden etc.

    Often in these cases protection for one building can’t be justified, but must be seen as a whole eg the missing tooth….Symonds st is an example - heading into town down at the motorway junction, a 1970′s high rise went in, and the 3 shops down by the corner are now cut off. They have probably lost their relationship to the “whole”, and could be redeveloped.

    However up at the intersection, 3 sides are pretty intact, and should be kept to retain the character. They can be incorporated into buildings behind - these can be the ironbank type quality developments.

    I personally believe modern quality can live with “heritage”, but it must be quaility design and materials

  32. DanC says:

    Upper Symonds street needs a speed camera, it can be a bit scary walking on the foot path.

  33. Bryan says:

    Upper Symonds St is fairly unique in Auckland, in having an entire block of Edwardian buildings. Khyber Pass to Mt Eden Rd is intact, as well as the western side down to the former Feltex House. As such, it should qualify for heritage protection.

    Some of the building have false facades, or are hidden behind billboards. They could easily be restored to showcase their more genteel past.

    imho the “artists impression” shows an oversized cold glass “appliance”, devoid of any human warmth or appeal.

  34. James B says:

    Personally I would build something like Cita in that carpark with 2 story shops in an Edwardian style and apartments over the top. Have two entrances to the station. One at the Mt Eden Road side and one on Symonds Street. Maybe while they are digging out the station they could underground the watertank as well.

  35. KarlHansen says:

    “Are you all just using the word ‘heritage’ as interchangeable with ‘old’?”

    Of course not, Patrick, thanks for asking!

    I AM however using the world “developer” interchangeably with “guilty of neglecting everything but making a quick buck” - until proven wrong by the SPECIFIC developer.

    And even people like Samson Corp with their very tasteful Ironbank building can have a bad track record elsewhere - witness their idea to bowl over the Bentley Buildings (Grafton Town centre, by Grafton Bridge on Park Road) for a ghastly new hotel frontage. If they had developed the hotel in the rear of their site, tastefully integrating a front entrance between the heritage (but sadly not scheduled) buildings, I would have easily been able to live with it. But if they bowl it, nothing is going to bring those old shops back (which also have some of the best local retail for miles around, I might say).


Leave a Comment


XHTML: You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>