“Damage to the Auckland Harbour Bridge is affecting North Shore businesses, which are already struggling with the impacts of the Covid-19 restrictions,” says Takapuna Beach Business Association (TBBA) chief executive, Terence Harpur.
Mr Harpur and Business North Harbour general manager, Kevin O’Leary, are calling on the New Zealand Transport Agency to confirm the timeline to permanently repair the damaged steel strut and fully reopen the bridge without further closures.
“We’re delighted to learn that a temporary repair maybe a reality. However, a permanent fix sooner rather than later remains essential. North Shore businesses and commuters need to be able plan with certainty and confidence without ongoing disruption,” says Mr O’Leary.
“We also want to know what safeguards will be put in place to minimise the chances of a repeat incident, or at the very least be assured that next time would see less commuter impact and a much quicker permanent fix,” he says.
The North Shore business leaders say while it impacts Auckland central businesses, the bridge is an even more important lifeline for the North Shore’s 43,000 businesses and 413,000 residents which is akin to the populations of Wellington and Christchurch respectively.
“Our businesses draw on employees and customers from all over the region. We’re not just some sleepy dormitory suburbs. Rather, the North Shore is one of the fastest growing areas in New Zealand which has recorded incredibly strong employment growth. Our role in the country’s economy has been overlooked for too long and any long-term planning has been woeful. That needs to change and quickly,” says Mr Harpur.
The North Shore generates around 18% of Auckland’s GDP and 6.8% of New Zealand’s GDP. By 2043 the population of the North Shore is forecast to be 640,000.
Mr O’Leary says Business North Harbour recently published ‘Bridge To The Future’ with the support of TBBA and others. The scoping paper on the North Shore’s long-term roadmap makes clear that an integrated North Shore infrastructure plan is needed and strongly advocates planning for transport certainty.
He says this latest commuter chaos highlights that the North Shore is in dire need of an agreed action plan to enable Auckland Council, central government and agencies to better work together, with local interests, to steer North Shore’s growth and development.
Mr Harpur says the North Shore’s infrastructure must be resilient with a second harbour crossing, ideally a tunnel, an absolute priority project.
“The current single harbour crossing highlights the complete lack of resilience in Auckland’s transport system. However, under current planning processes, it will be 10 years before a second harbour crossing can even be consented. It’s clearer than ever that the North Shore, Auckland, and in fact New Zealand, cannot wait that long.
“We urgently need to know when will the bridge be permanently fixed, and what will be done to avoid a similar outcome reoccurring. Once this is sorted, let’s see a timeline set in stone for the consenting and construction of a second harbour crossing. No more talk or promises. The North Shore now needs a concrete commitment,” says Terence Harpur.
Both North Shore business leaders say the partial closing of the Auckland Harbour Bridge after six months of Covid-19 lockdowns and alert level restrictions could not have come at a worse time. Takapuna alone reported a 97% drop in retail trade under Level 4 back in April and was down 85% under Level 3 in August compared to the same last year.