Once upon a time Aucklanders were musing on the merits of a private-sector proposal aimed at satisfying the demands from the lycra lobby for a tolled pedestrian and cycle path across Auckland Harbour Bridge.
Orewa-based Hopper Developments – with pioneering projects such as canal housing and marina schemes at Pauanui, Whitianga and Marsden Pt under its belt – had signed a heads of agreement to work with a walking and cycling charitable trust on a $16 million pathway over the bridge.
This differed from a proposal by Transport Agency consultants, rejected by the agency’s board in 2008, for separate paths to be cantilevered at road level off each edge of the bridge for up to $43 million.
The SkyPath project since then has become, first, a privately funded project underwritten by the Auckland Council, and then a project to be paid for by taxpayers – and the costs have burgeoned.
Today we learn of plans for a $685 million dedicated cycle bridge to replace SkyPath, proudly announced by Infrastructure and Transport Minister Michael Wood.
That statement was followed by another announcement that
- The Government is increasing its investment in the New Zealand Upgrade Programme (NZUP) to support New Zealand’s economic recovery; but
- While two thirds of the projects will proceed as announced, the others are being modified.
This affirms that the cycling and walking fraternity have done well from the government’s decisions.
Fully funding the new estimated costs for every project in the New Zealand Upgrade Programme would have cost up to $6 billion on top of the original $6.8 billion.
The government therefore has taken “a balanced approach” (it says) with a mix of additional investment and re-scoping of “a handful of projects” while keeping a lid on debt.
An additional $1.9 billion set aside in the multi-year capital allowance to support targeted investments is being used to deliver the projects that passed muster.
Michael Wood brought another consideration into the reckoning: climate commitments.
“Recognising the need to decarbonise our transport system, we’re rebalancing the package to increase investment in rail, public transport and walking and cycling.”
The Taxpayers Union has recorded the shifts in the Auckland Harbour Bridge cycling concept – and the burgeoning costs:
2010: $16 million, privately-funded
2015: $33 million, privately-funded and underwritten by Auckland Council
2018: $67 million, taxpayer-funded
2020: $240 million, taxpayer-funded
2021: $685 million, taxpayer-funded
Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke notes:
“Today’s latest budget blowout brings the cost of SkyPath to $370 for every household in the country, from Kaitaia to the Bluff. The benefits of this spending will be concentrated on a tiny group of disproportionately wealthy Aucklanders.”
Cyclists – on average – are wealthier than other commuters, Houlbrooke contends.
“This will be especially the case for the lucky cyclists in the expensive suburbs at either end of SkyPath 2.0. It’s astounding that a Labour Government is championing such a regressive, elitist project.”
He draws attention to successive governments’ track records on major projects like this and foresees further delays and cost blowouts. The union is urging the Government to allocate this money to transport projects that benefit the many, not the few.
The Greens, in contrast, have welcomed “the Government’s renewed commitment to safe walking and cycling across the Waitemata Harbour”.
But they warn that new highway investment – part of the government’s revised NZ Upgrade which diverts more funding to rail and safe walking and cycling – still puts too much money “into a few over-specced highways”.
Green Party Transport spokesperson Julie Anne (two wheels good, four wheels bad) Genter said:
“We are fast running out of time to address the climate emergency, and right now we must be focused on investing in low-carbon transport rather than pouring more money into a few over-priced sprawl-inducing stretches of motorway.”
The contrasting views were issued in response to the transport-related statements on the Beehive website posted since Point of Order last checked on what the government is up to.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson got in on the act to announce this revision of the New Zealand Upgrade Programme, adding his voice to that of Infrastructure and Transport Minister Michael Wood.
The key point is that while the government is increasing its investment in the programme, only two two-thirds of the projects will proceed as announced.
Costs and carbon have been determining considerations.
Proceeding with the Mill Road project as originally scoped would have cost up to $3.5 billion and at peak produced six tonnes of CO2 emissions a day. The government therefore has focused on delivering safety improvements to Mill Road, upgrades to SH1 and rail, and new rail stations connected to public transport, walking and cycling infrastructure.
“This rebalanced package helps manage debt, reduces emissions and supports housing growth,” Wood said.
The Marsden Point rail spur will be a strategic investment in Northland’s future prosperity, getting heavy trucks off the road to make the highway safer, and reduce emissions. .
“Meeting our commitment to decarbonising transport means that we have to start doing things differently. This re-balanced NZUP package shows our intent, and to guide future investment I intend to amend the Government Policy Statement on land transport to provide Waka Kotahi with the clarity it needs to make investments consistent with our country’s decarbonisation goals,” Michael Wood said.
Reiterating the government’s commitment to the Northern Pathway, we learn its preferred option is a separate structure for walking and cycling alongside the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
Geotechnical investigations and testing has determined that building a structure connected to the Auckland Harbour Bridge is not possible because the existing piers are not able to accommodate the extra weight without considerable modifications to counter balance the increased load involving additional risk to the bridge.
Michael Wood said:
“We need this transport connection to move ahead but it isn’t technically possible to attach it to the existing bridge without putting the whole structure at risk.
“A stand-alone structure is the safest option that will not only provide a walking and cycling option for commuters but creates an outstanding piece of tourism infrastructure.
* Trans-tasman bubble
Quarantine Free Travel pause with Victoria to continue, planning underway for managed return flights
Following the Victorian Government’s decision to extend their lockdown restrictions, New Zealand’s Quarantine Free Travel pause with Victoria will be extended for a further six days, with a further review due on Wednesday 9 June.
* Building laws
New building laws passed yesterday are the first phase of a suite of reforms to the Building Act that aim to lift the efficiency and quality of building work and provide fairer outcomes if things go wrong.
A new modular component manufacturer scheme will allow offsite building manufacturers who meet certain requirements to be certified, which will allow them to sign off their own designs and construction. This could significantly speed up the consenting process.
Other law changes include a new requirement for manufacturers and importers to make information about building products and their uses publicly available. This will help builders and designers choose the right products and install them in the way intended and be held accountable for doing so, which will lead to safer and more durable buildings.
The reforms announced yesterday include a range of changes to the CodeMark product certification scheme; changes to the way the Building Levy can be spent; new offences to support compliance with the changes; higher maximum penalties for existing offences; and a longer period to file a charge for investigating breaches of the Act.
The extension of time to file a charge, changes to the Building Levy and increased maximum penalties for individuals and organisations who fail to comply with the requirements of the Building Act will take effect immediately following Royal assent.
* Fishing industry
Rino Tirikatane, Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister responsible for Oceans and Fisheries, talked about the Ocean and Fisheries portfolio and vision.