Skypath stoush prompts government to step in

8:15 pm on 4 March 2019

A dispute threatening a pedestrian and cycle accessway across Auckland's Harbour Bridge has prompted the government to step in between the Skypath Trust and the Transport Agency.

A graphic showing the entrance to the proposed walkway.

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

The bridge path, costed at $67m, is meant to link to a $30m seapath due to be finished in 2021. Skypath Trust was set up to champion the path, and has spent $1.7m on design work over the last four years.

Originally, the aim was to have a Public Private Partnership build the path, but that fell over. Auckland Council was left to front the $2.2m costs of a resource consent in 2013, a successful Environment Court hearing in 2016, and preparatory costs for Skypath's design.

The council said Skypath Trust's design was "the only option considered possible based on previous investigations undertaken for NZTA".

The Transport Agency (NZTA) took over the project last year however and appears to be seeking other design options, saying it had to do more work before it would know the right design to take forward.

It has warned it will ditch the Skypath design if the trust does not allow free access to its design documents and consultants.

"Work is well underway on the business case," NZTA said.

However, council chief executive Stephen Town told RNZ in a statement: "in terms of the consenting process, if NZTA does decide to go with another option, it could require a further consent".

Money for the design is also still owed to about a dozen consultants and engineers.

The trust has accused NZTA of reneging on paying for the design work and resource consents that have already been done, and raised fears the agency might be trying to delay the project in order to ditch it entirely.

The project was originally planned to be finished this year.

The agency said it still planned to begin construction as soon as late next year, however the Skypath design relies on composite materials, and a composites industry insider told RNZ there was no way construction could begin so soon given the work pressures on the building industry.

The stoush prompted the government to step in, with associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter saying the pathway was a very important project for Auckland.

"It's a priority for this government and we are committed to delivering it," she said.

"I urge both parties to get back round the table to work out a mutually beneficial solution."

Mr Town said there was still momentum and will at the council to complete the project quickly.

"It is of course possible that elements of the current design which has resource consent may well be used as part of any new option," Mr Town said.

"The council family is working in partnership with NZTA and if the decision is to proceed with the SkyPath design, then council looks forward to working with the NZTA on the delivery of SkyPath as quickly as possible," Mr Town said.

The 2013 consent for Skypath's was sought after councillors agreed on it "in the absence of any formal commitment from the government of the day". In a memo that year, the Transport Agency said it had collaborated with the trust and council to achieve "a feasible engineering solution", and had paid for this work.

Mr Town said the council rejected any suggestion it was poor practice to spend so much on a design option that now appears endangered.

"Much of the work undertaken to date to investigate the feasibility ... would still be required regardless of the options now being considered by NZTA," Mr Town said.

"Understanding the feasibility of creating accessways to and from the bridge, as well as assessing safety issues like wind testing, would be imperative for any agreed project. It is therefore inaccurate to suggest that this investment was unnecessary.

"It is also important to note that the Environment Court hearing into this matter also came at a cost."

The council has almost $8m of capital spending moved from last year's budget to the 2018-19 budget for sideline projects such as the relocation of the Westhaven Marine maintenance yard at Curran St and Westhaven Dr near the southern landing of SkyPath, and the realignment of path in Stokes Point Reserve at Northcote Point.

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