by Nancy Mitchelson*

Plans for a Queen Street Mall, 1978. Queen Street Mall – Pedestrians Central Area – Background Information, 1972-1980, Works Department Classified Subject Files, ACC 219 Box 1100 Item 1100b Record [64-141-06-02] Part 2 Record ID 673665, Auckland Council Archives.

 

The concept of closing part of Queen Street to cars and creating a pedestrian oasis in the middle of Auckland’s own ‘Golden Mile,’ is not a novel one. In fact, this idea has existed in some form since at least 1968, when Mayor Sir Dove-Myer Robinson made it the cornerstone of his mayoral campaign platform.[1]

Even then, it took until 1971 with the Central Area Proposals, for the Queen Street mall to be seriously considered. At that time, a temporary closure was shelved due to the reaction of multiple Queen Street businessmen.[2] As will be seen in the rest of this article, this is a truly recurrent theme.

Not even a year later, in 1972, a pedestrian mall was again considered for the junction between Wyndham and Customs Street. And, yet again, the proposal was nixed.[3]

In August 1973, students from the School of Architecture, in conjunction with the Auckland Architectural Association, submitted a design proposal for a Queen Street mall to Auckland City Council. They were met with enthusiastic praise from Director of Planning, and mall supporter, J.R. Betts. However, they were warned it would need to be developed in combination with what was to be written in the Central Area Plan.[4]

The Central Area Plan came in 1974 and the only pedestrian spaces on Queen Street to be given the green light were Queen Elizabeth Square and Aotea Square. The mall was stalled due to intended proposals for underground railway construction. This sprawling railway construction, as is evident today, never came to fruition.[5]

In October of 1975, a tragedy. A pedestrian was killed by a moving trolley bus in an experimental mall in Lambton Quay, Wellington. Councillors in Auckland took heed of the dangers of moving vehicles in primary pedestrian spaces.[6]

Initial planning drawings for the Queen Street mall, possibly drawn by Chief Architect E.M. Wainscott. Queen Street Mall – Pedestrians Central Area – Background Information, 1972-1980, Works Department Classified Subject Files, ACC 219 Box 1100 Item 1100b Record [64-141-06-02] Part 2 Record ID 673665, Auckland Council Archives.

 

Nevertheless, two years later, planning for a mall was beginning to take hold. In January 1977, the Town Planning Division sought advice regarding the rerouting of the trolley bus that travelled through the proposed Victoria/Wellesley block. They were advised that economically, “the Queen Street shuttle bus is not flexible in regard to rerouting.”[7] Thus, a strictly pedestrian-only mall was over before it began. The Central Auckland Business Association, and the Tramways Union, were less than pleased with this development.[8]

Still, the Queen Street Mall sub-committee was formed. The mall was given the go ahead by the Auckland City Council in September. To be built by the year 1980, this would come at a cost of $670,000, roughly three million in today’s money.[9] In October, the council report, Pedestrians in Queen Street: Part One and Two, were made available for public comment. At this time, the sub-committee were advised that any kind of ‘trial mall’ would run the risk of alienating the public, who would not have enough time to get used to the idea.[10]

By January 1978, mall backlash from business owners was gaining momentum, citing common reasons for disapproval as increased parking congestion and layabout undesirables.[11] The Auckland City Council’s capital works team named the large cost as reason enough for it to be removed from the five year works programme. This “gold-plated” version was dropped, but the mall ball kept rolling.[12]

More developed images of what a possible mall in Queen Street would look like, as seen in the council document Pedestrians in Queen Street. Department of Planning and Social Development for Planning and Redevelopment Committee Pedestrians in Queen Street Research Summary of Investigations, 1979-1979, Publications, ACC 398 Box 6 Item 6i Part 2 Record ID 400180, Auckland Council Archives.

 

Mr. Whittington, an executive of Adelaide’s thriving Rundle Mall, came to counsel the council in March, and was met with general excitement. That excitement dwindled when he pointed out that the retail strength of Queen Street paled in comparison to Rundle Mall, that traffic circulation on parallel streets was poor, and that the shuttle bus should definitely be excluded.[13]

In August, a number of councillors, backed by businessmen, emphasised their support for a trial mall to test the waters. Sir Dove was adamant a trial would “lose the public.”[14] The same month in a Council Meeting, a move for deferment of the mall backed by a petition of forty-one businesses was defeated, twelve votes to eight. Sir Dove called it “the most intensive lobbying I have ever seen.”[15]

Yet, due to various traffic studies and analyses yet to be completed, the mall was deferred anyway. Much to Robinson’s dismay, a trial mall was approved due to growing pressure from the Tramways Union, whose drivers would be the ones to navigate through the crowds of people when the time came.[16]

This trial took place during the first week of the school holidays, from the 5th to the 13th of May, 1979. To reiterate, the very idea of a trial went against advice given from every planning level, to say nothing of the trolley bus running right through the middle of it.

The planning process leading up to the trial mall paints a clear picture of bureaucracy and the influence of business interests in forming pedestrian spaces for Auckland’s city centre. However, the events preceding the trial mall are only part of a much larger story about the restricted efforts of council planners at this time.

 

*Nancy Mitchelson was awarded first-class honours in History at The University of Auckland, having completed a Bachelor of Arts. She  was one of four students awarded a 2019 Summer Scholarship at The University of Auckland out of a highly competitive field and her award was funded by a Jonathan and Mary Mason Scholarship in Auckland History. Her research project focused on the efforts to Pedestrianise Queen Street in May of 1979.

 

 

[1] “Queen Street Mall Must Be Done Properly,” NZH, 17 February, 1978.

[2] “Auckland Central Area Plan an Amalgam,” NZH, 14 August, 1974.

[3] Graham Bush, Advance In Order, Auckland City Council, Auckland, 1991, 249.

[4] City Development Plan and Central Area Proposals, 1973-1975, Town Clerk’s Department Subject Files, ACC 275 Box 545 Record 69-138 Part 3 Record ID 455687, Auckland Council Archives.

[5] Town Planning Division: Department of Works, The Central Area Plan, Auckland City Council, Auckland, 49.

[6] Department of Planning and Social Development for Planning and Redevelopment Committee Pedestrians in Queen Street Research Summary of Investigations, 1979-1979, Publications, ACC 398 Box 6 Item 6i Part 2 Record ID 400180, Auckland Council Archives.

[7] Queen Street Mall, 1978-1978, Works Department Classified Subject Files, ACC 219 Box 925 Item 925g Record 64-141-05 Part 2 Record ID 420306, Auckland Council Archives.

[8]. ibid.

[9] “Pedestrian Only Plan for Queen Street Block,” Auckland Star, 27 September, 1977.

[10] Queen Street Mall, 1976-1978, Works Department Classified Subject Files, ACC 219 Box 925 Item 925f Record 64-141-05 Part 1 Record ID 420305, Auckland Council Archives.

[11]ibid.

[12] “Queen Street Mall Must Be Done Properly,” NZH, 17 February, 1978.

[13]  Queen Street Mall, 1978-1978, Works Department Classified Subject Files, ACC 219 Box 925 Item 925g Record 64-141-05 Part 2 Record ID 420306, Auckland Council Archives.

[14] Robert Fea, “Fears of Traffic Problems: The Mall Part Four,” NZH, 17 August, 1978.

[15] “Move to Defer Queen Street Mall Defeated,” NZH, 26 August, 1978.

[16] “Mall Work Delay Over Bus Trials,” Auckland Star, 19 December, 1978.