Simon Plumb is a journalist for the Herald on Sunday

SkyPath opponents reach deadline

Community groups fighting Harbour Bridge walking and cycling addition must finalise issues by today.

The community groups challenging the SkyPath plan in the Environment Court have reached their deadline to finalise their issues with the proposal.

Auckland Council has spent $321,296 investigating the plan to add bike and walking access to the Harbour Bridge even though the New Zealand Transport Agency has yet to decide whether the idea is technically sound.

Three community groups are taking the council and Woodward Infrastructure - the private company behind the $33 million SkyPath proposal - to the Environment Court to appeal against the resource consent granted eight months ago.

The appellants say there's a lack of technical research in the plans and object to the council's decision to grant consent without a verdict from the NZTA on whether it will approve a "licence to occupy" to let the concept go ahead.

The appellants are the Herne Bay Residents Association, Northcote Residents Association and the Northcote Point Heritage Preservation Society.

At a pre-hearing conference this month, Principal Environment Court Judge Laurence Newhook ruled that the parties must finalise all unresolved issues by March 31.

By May 27, the council must also file a "comprehensive report", a document which must include the results of "wind load testing", after the court deemed the testing was needed to establish the feasibility of the proposal.

Herne Bay Residents Association co-chair Christine Cavanagh says her group is not opposed to the SkyPath but fears plans are being undermined by poor process and inadequate research.

"What concerns us is that the applicant [Woodward Infrastructure] and Auckland Council have not done their homework on a range of fundamental issues.

"For example, there's no adequate evidence yet available to establish that SkyPath can be attached to the Auckland Harbour Bridge without compromising the bridge's safety and function."

The council says it has spent $321,296 of ratepayer money on the project so far, including $55,000 on legal fees defending the Environment Court case, and insists "standard process" has been followed.

"Four independent commissioners granted consent," a spokeswoman said. "Council has undertaken extensive due diligence and continues to consider its involvement. The governing body [council] will make the final decision whether to enter into a formal commercial agreement."

The man heading the privately funded side of the SkyPath project, Bevan Woodward, says he's not concerned the council is already pouring public money into the concept and also believes good process has been followed.

"Is there a risk we're spending money on a project that I have spent 12 years working on? Yes, there is a risk," Mr Woodward said. "But we are not concerned the project won't go ahead. NZTA are supporting it and it doesn't make sense for them to issue the licence-to-occupy until we've got council consent and can then finalise operational detail."

NZTA classifies SkyPath's status as an "investigation", and confirmed it is still some way off making a decision on whether to allow it to go ahead.

- NZ Herald

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