Auckland's SkyPath on track

JOSH FAGAN
Last updated 10:11 15/08/2014

Skypath animation

Bevan Woodward
JOSH FAGAN/Fairfax NZ
SKY'S THE LIMIT: SkyPath project director Bevan Woodward says the government has shown no interest in funding the alternative route across the Harbour Bridge.

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Auckland's SkyPath is a step closer to construction but its chief planner admits the project is battling funding hurdles, complaints from residents and a lack of political support.

Resource consents for the shared walkway/cycleway attached to the side of the Harbour Bridge are due to be lodged next week, following more than 10 years of planning. 

The SkyPath could open as early as 2016 but it would come at a cost, with entrance fees of at least $3.50 each way or $2 each way with a Hop card. 

Project director Bevan Woodward said he was optimistic the latest designs would be approved but was realistic about the potential for difficulties and delays.

''With everything involved in this, it has taken longer than expected,'' he said.

Woodward, who trained as an accountant before moving into project management, said the idea of cycling across to the North Shore was ''the bleeding obvious solution'' to ease congestion over the bridge.

He has spent the past 15 years trying to persuade authorities to make it happen.

Initial funding proposals put to the NZ Transport Association were all rejected, before Morrison and Co Public Infrastructure Partnership Fund came forward to foot the $33 million bill.

Woodward said the user-pays model was not the preferred option but the government had shown no interest at all in funding the project.

''We just kept getting knocked back and told it was in the too-hard basket. We thought 'stuff it, we'll just get on with it'. The fact that it's taken a community initiative to get to this point I just find surreal.''

The pathway would be only the second toll route in the Auckland region - the other being the Northern Gateway Toll Road that costs $2.20 per car.

Woodward said he was confident people would be willing to part with a few dollars to see the sights from the bridge, for the novelty value at least.

But not all have shared his optimism for the project, with several disgruntled residents arguing too many people would be parking near their homes and that users might display anti-social behaviour.

Woodward said he had looked to counter those fears by employing two security guards, and said consultations had worked with Northcote Point residents to find the best solution.

The Northcote Residents' Association said it had major concerns about the SkyPath but was ''not in a position to make any public statement about the project''.

North Shore ward councillor George Wood has stated he was publicly opposed to the SkyPath, but fellow North Shore councillor Chris Darby said feedback he received from residents showed a ''phenomenal level of support''.

Darby said the SkyPath was 55 years overdue and would follow through on the original plan for the bridge, which, before its 1959 build, included designs for a rail line and a 2-metre walkway, similar to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

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''I'm optimistic that this is a project whose time has come,'' he said.

''I would suggest there's a minority concern. But all the surveys I've seen for Auckland city-side residents and North Shore residents are in favour of it.''

Environmental organisation Generation Zero's Auckland policy director Luke Christensen said the cycle route would be an important link connecting Auckland and attracting cycling tourism. 

''It has huge potential,'' he said. ''I would have rather the NZTA would have just built the system outright. But I think people will still be happy to pay for it, it's certainly cheaper than getting a ferry across.''

A 5km cycle path from Takapuna to Northcote Ferry Wharf, linking up to the SkyPath, was recently proposed by Auckland Transport but has already drawn criticism. 

Residents along the route, including senior government minister Jonathan Coleman, have said the cycle way wasn't worth the inconvenience of removing car parks.

Coleman, who lives in Northcote Point, said he regularly cycles in the area but did not see any demand from cyclists for a dedicated bike path.

He warned the cycle route and the SkyPath were sparking a "heated debate", which has divided residents.

"On the one hand you've got cycling lobbyists who are pretty hardcore then you've got people who are dead opposed to the SkyPath.

But in the middle you've got a lot of pretty reasonable people who want to see compromises and reasonable plans."

An alternative cycle lane - the SeaPath - is also in consideration to be built along the eastern side of the motorway, connecting SkyPath out to Takapuna. 

Woodward said he was hoping the estimated $3.7million SeaPath connection could be built by the time the SkyPath opened.

Eventually, he was hoping that once the SkyPath was up-and-running, a future transport minister might decide to allocate $33m to buy out the project, removing the need for tolls. 

A spokesman for Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said that remained a hypothetical question that the minister couldn't answer, while Labour's transport spokesman Phil Twyford said ''it seems like the organisers have put together a PPP that could work and I don't see any need to interfere with that''.

The SkyPath designs and resource consent are due to be lodged to Auckland Council next Tuesday before opening for further public feedback.

- Stuff

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