21 Jul 2016

Auckland Council gives nod to SkyPath

5:25 pm on 21 July 2016

Councillors have voted to build the SkyPath across the Auckland Harbour Bridge by means of a public-private partnership.

A graphic showing the entrance to the proposed walkway.

A graphic showing the entrance to the proposed path and cycleway. Photo: Copyright © 2011 - 2014 Generation Zero Incorporated.

The vote for the clip-on walking and cycling path was unanimous despite earlier opposition from some councillors.

Bike Auckland spokesperson Jolisa Gracewood, who had backed the project, said she was thrilled by the vote.

"I like to think it's a sense of inevitability, that there's this great big missing link in the middle of our city and that they have a chance to connect it.

"The tide was turning. That map with all the people who supported it showing just green lights all over the city for this project to happen."

Opponents of the project warned Auckland Council's Finance and Performance Committee this morning that the SkyPath could be unsafe in an emergency.

They also said it would cause parking congestion on both sides of the bridge, and particularly in Northcote Point on the northern side of the bridge.

Northcote Residents Association representative Kevin Clarke, whose organisation opposed the project, said the accessway to the SkyPath on the northern side was only 2.3m wide and it was not possible to expand it.

Another submitter who opposed the SkyPath, Jeremy Richards, said with only one exit at either end of the bridge, it could be very difficult to safely evacuate people in the case of a chemical spill or another emergency.

But council staff told the committee the plans had been shown to the New Zealand Fire Service, which was happy with the design of the project.

Kaipātiki local board chair Richard Hills said opponents had overplayed the risks of having only two exits.

Auckland Harbour Bridge. View from Mount Eden summit.

A view of the Auckland Harbour Bridge from the summit of Mt Eden Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

That was also the case with other publicly-accessible bridges such as Sydney Harbour Bridge and New York's Brooklyn Bridge, Mr Hills said.

Opponents were also wrong when they claimed there was insufficient parking in Northcote Point and that residents would be fighting with tourists for parking spaces, he said.

Many of the residents he represented in Beachhaven and other North Shore suburbs already cycled to get to the harbour ferries and had told him they would also cycle to get to the SkyPath.

That view was backed by youth advocacy group Generation Zero.

Its representative, Niko Elsen, said of the 11,000 people who made submissions via Generation Zero's website, 80 percent said they would cycle to get to the start of the SkyPath.

Public submissions were overwhelmingly in favour of going ahead with the project, Mr Elsen said.

There were fewer than 200 submissions opposing it, while 380 people in Northcote alone had submitted in favour of it, he said.

That belied the Northcote Residents Association's claim that the project did not have the support of locals living near the bridge, Mr Elsen said.

However, some councillors had expressed concerns they still did not have enough information to approve the project.

Councillors George Wood and Cameron Brewer both questioned why they still did not have information from the New Zealand Transport Agency about the cost of strengthening the bridge - which needed to happen before the SkyPath could be built - or what the agency would place on how many people could use the SkyPath each day.

A public-private partnership will now fund the SkyPath, with construction, operation and maintenance costs fronted by HRL Morrison and Co's public infrastructure partnership fund, and the council underwriting some of the revenue.

In return, users would pay HRL Morrison an admission charge of around $2 to $3 for crossing each way.

The council will now finalise the terms of its agreement, with construction beginning as early as next year.

At peak times, the walkway was expected to have 10,000 to 12,000 people crossing daily.