SkyPath a 'game-changer' for Auckland - Brown

People will be able to bike or walk from Devonport to St Heliers via the new SkyPath, says Auckland mayor Len Brown, crossing the water under a new tube-like structure suspended beneath the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

Tomorrow, Mr Brown will reveal more about the futuristic looking cycleway and will also talk about a new broadband scheme to get more Aucklanders online.

In a speech prepared for delivery in the morning to the Greater East Tamaki Business Association, he spoke optimistically of those schemes and his underground railway plans.

"The SkyPath will be Auckland's first public private partnership (PPP) and will eventually enable a great vision: a cycle and walking path stretching from St Heliers to Devonport. This will act as a real game-changer for building pedestrian and cycleways around our city.

"This is a chance to cut our teeth on PPPs and show that we can deliver real value for money and better outcomes for ratepayers," his speech said.

But he warned how PPPs were not a free ticket to be clipped by the private sector.

"We need to use our considerable scale and position to nail down the best possible deals for Aucklanders, learning the lessons from international experience and retaining public ownership," he said.

The bridge project would show how a new funding model could succeed.

"Beyond the SkyPath, there will be major opportunities for transport projects, including the Central Rail Link, better waste management and other major transport projects," Mr Brown said.

On the digital scheme, he said more free Wi-Fi would be available soon.

"Auckland Council will be developing a Digital Auckland Kick Start programme. My intention is that this will include working with business partners to roll out free Wi-Fi in public places and public transport and finding commercial partners to help expedite the rollout of ultrafast broadband."

Auckland had its brightest economic outlook in nearly a decade but it could do better, he told the association.

The city's annual growth was projected to be around 3.5 per cent this year and he acknowledged the role of the residential property market was playing in its fortunes.

"The housing market continues to be the key driver of Auckland's growth. Building activity is up nearly 25 per cent on a year ago, and for the first time since 2008 annual consents for new homes have exceeded 6000.

"The picture we're seeing from our consents team - which tends to provide a leading indicator of what's happening in housing - is that capacity is finally starting build in our housing market, with consent numbers for 2013-14 set to be double the number for 2011.

"We're also seeing a rebound in consumer and business confidence and signs that the labour market is improving," he said.

However, Auckland's economy had plenty of capacity and there was opportunity to improve.

"If we want to achieve the growth rates we're really capable of -which I believe are around 5 to 6 per cent - we have to make the shift to an export focussed economy. Doing this successfully would allow us to take advantage of faster growing overseas economies," he said.

The city needed to attract more international investment and talent, he said.

Liveability was the biggest driver of migration and as Auckland became an increasingly liveable city, the potential provided by international migration as increased.

Brown said Auckland needed to start building the CRL in 2016.

"The clearest message from Aucklanders in the past three years is that we need to get our transport problems fixed once and for all. Auckland has suffered from decades of under-investment in public transport and a lack of joined-up planning. We are only now beginning to put in place the foundations of a world-class public transport system," he said.

Last year, the Government agreed to back the CRL, the central plank of our work to improve Auckland's transport network, he said.

The CRL would double the capacity of Auckland's rail network, offering twice as many train journeys and passengers across the entire rail network and trains at most stations every 5-10 minutes at peak.

"I welcome the government's backing for the CRL, but the fact is their proposed start date of 2020 is too long for Auckland to wait.

Without the CRL, by 2021 Auckland's bus network will have reached capacity, and speeds on city roads will have dropped to a creeping 7km per hour during peak time. I have taken my proposal for an early start to Prime Minister John Key and begun what I am confident will be productive discussions with the Government this year. The PM has asked the government to look at the proposal," Brown said.

By Anne Gibson of the NZ Herald

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