$33.5m Harbour Bridge Skypath gets resource consent

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The SkyPath cycling and walking attachment to the Auckland Harbour Bridge has been granted resource consent, meaning the $33.5 million public-private partnership can go ahead, and could be built as early as 2016.

The decision was made by independent commissioners after resource consent hearings were held over two weeks in June.

Conceived as a community initiative, SkyPath will be financed by private sector funding as well as by the Auckland Council, where users pay an entrance fee to fund its construction and operation.

The covered pathway is planned to be a minimum of 4m wide, extending to 6m at five viewing platforms. It is expected users will pay a toll of between $2 and $4 each way.

SkyPath will connect to the Westhaven walking and cycling promenade, where pedestrians, joggers and cyclists can get to the city via Wynyard Quarter.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown says the decision is “a real game changer” for the city.

“This exciting project is another part of the physical uniting of Auckland,” Mr Brown says.

“Besides being of enormous benefit to cyclists, it’s a fabulous opportunity for Aucklanders and visitors to the city to walk across and have great views of our spectacular harbour.”

Mr Brown says the next step to enable the project to proceed will be a report to be completed by council staff on proposed commercial arrangements, and recommendations on how to proceed from there.

The pathway has been hailed by supporters as a vital link in the city’s cycle network, but has drawn criticism from some who say it is going to have an adverse impact on the suburbs at either end of the bridge.

A staunch group of SkyPath opponents have argued against the project, and have warned they may take their case to the Environment Court to overturn the resource consent.

Kevin Clarke, of the Northcote Residents Association, says the group will challenge the decision at the Environment Court. “There’s no remote question about that,” he says.

Generation Zero, a group working to cut carbon pollution, says it is elated that the project has been given the go ahead.

“SkyPath will be an iconic addition to the city, as well as a key transport link,” group spokesman Sudhvir Singh says.

“This is another sign of Auckland learning from the planning mistakes of the past and recognising the huge demand for walking and cycling,” Mr Singh says.

Councillor Chris Darby says the decision is phenomenal, and praised project director Bevan Woodward as a champion.

“He’s been enormous in this. And there’s been a great team behind him. A project like this is going to be a beacon for biking.”

Mr Woodward says it has taken 11 years of work to get to this point.

“I have to admit when I first got involved I had no idea how big it was going to become. This isn’t just about bridging this gap, it’s about giving birth to a whole walking and cycling network around the city.”

Mr Woodward met recently with project financiers Public Infrastructure Fund, and announced that a Memorandum of Understanding was signed to appoint Downer as the delivery partner for SkyPath.

Most design elements were approved by the decision, but Mr Woodward says it was unclear yet whether the addition would have to match the bridge’s grey livery, or whether a preferred white colour would be used.

The decision from the independent commissioners described the project as a “critical transport link and a positive gain for Auckland’s transportation network”.

Commissioners say they believed issues raised by residents, such as parking concerns, can be adequately addressed.

“Parking effects associated with parties who chose to drive to SkyPath will be adequately mitigated through provision, implementation, and review and monitoring of the operational plan,” the decision said.

The application received 11,586 submissions, with 11,413 in support, five neutral and 168 against. There was a 15 working day appeal period from the date of the consent.

How will Skypath be built?

SkyPath will use leading marine technology composite material which is light and very strong, in the form of a series of U-beams that clip on to the underside of the eastern edge of the bridge with a composite foam core deck.

Horizontal composite rods are spaced out across the enclosure to allow viewing and for maintaining safety.

Composites are slightly more expensive than a comparable steel structure, but make up for this in terms of buildability, long-term service life, lower maintenance costs and weight saving.

Being 4m wide, SkyPath has sufficient shared space for walkers, joggers and cyclists, with additional two-metre extensions for five observation decks at the structural piers.

SkyPath will be constructed in modules that have been prefabricated off-site. They will be placed on the side of the bridge at night to minimise traffic disruption.