Auckland Transport slows down spending on the city’s footpaths

Auckland Transport’s budget for new footpaths has been slashed leaving barely enough money to complete three jobs and lay a small strip at Ramarama in South Auckland this financial year.

The total length of new footpaths this year for the entire Super City is 286m.

Despite an expected marginal increase in spending on new footpaths, AT still plans to only spend $9m on them from a capital budget of $3 billion over the next three years.

By comparison, it is budgeting to spend $140m on new cycleways over the next three years. It is also planning to restore some of the cuts to the footpath renewal budget over the same period.

The slowdown in spending is a sore point for lifelong Whenuapai resident Mark Batchelor.

In April last year, the 67-year-old broke his collar bone after falling into a ditch near his home on Kauri Rd where there are no footpaths.

He waswalking for physiotherapy after a shoulder replacement and he dived to get out of the way of an oncoming bus.

“I’m not for one moment blaming the bus driver. He was doing a good service but if we had a footpath these things wouldn’t happen. It wouldn’t happen in Hobsonville Pt or anywhere like that because they have got decent footpaths,” he said.

To make matters worse, he is one of about 8000 rural property owners facing a proposed rate rise of between 16 per cent and 23 per cent on the grounds they now share similar services to city dwellers.

“I’m incensed. I risk my life going outside my gate. It would be nice to get some services. Nothing happens here,” said Batchelor, who is angry with plans proceeding for a walkway and cycleway over the Harbour Bridge while he has spent months in bed with a broken collar bone.

The cuts have come as a big surprise to councillor Shane Henderson, who as deputy chair of the finance committee wants to ramp up the budgets to build and renew the city’s 7364km of footpaths.

He said footpaths – a bread and butter core spend for council – are in a shocking state in parts of the city.

“Footpaths are used by everyone, but they are a lifeline in particular for parents with prams, people who rely on walkers or mobility scooters.

“There are communities in Auckland that used to be rural, but are now dotted with housing, no footpaths, and with children who need to walk and cycle to school,” said Henderson.

He said this year’s Covid-hit budget of $1.7m for new footpaths, increasing to $9m over the next three years needs to rise to at least $6m a year to make headway on a huge list of projects.

The renewal budget, Henderson said, should conservatively be $250m in the 10-year budget. AT has told him the renewal budget has been 25 per cent less than it would ideally like over the last three years but is expected to progressively increase over the next 10 years.

The proposed renewals budget over the next three years is $68m.

Henderson said footpaths are a public health and climate issue, a view shared by Living Streets Aotearoa president Andy Smith, who said this is the decade of the footpath as cities realise that cars are not a solution but the problem.

Smith said it is a shame the budget for footpaths has been cut.

“During the day the city paths have runners out at 6am, followed by walking or wheelchair commuters during the day, school children, coffee meeting goers, lunchtime walkers and runners, walking meetings, then school kids again, then commuters followed by dusk strollers and night runners.

“With all those uses, footpaths are essential for our health and wellbeing,” Smith said.

Albany councillor John Watson said people in his ward have been waiting 20 years for footpaths on main connector roads to their township when in other parts of the city money is no problem when it comes to digging up and replacing roads and pavements multiple times.

Now some deprived parts of Auckland face massive rate increases when they have no footpaths and open ditches on either side of the road, he said.

Information provided by AT to Henderson shows no plans over the next two years to roll out any new footpaths in the areas facing potential big rate increases.

Another Albany councillor, Wayne Walker, said AT was failing to get more people walking and cycling on a limited budget by building hugely expensive cycleways like the $30m Karangahape Rd cycleway instead of rolling out relatively inexpensive projects.

“I would like to see a list of projects prioritised in terms of cost and bang for buck,” said Walker, who suggested widening footpaths to create shared paths for walking and cycling as a cost-effective solution.

Rodney councillor Greg Sayers, who represents many of the ratepayers impacted by proposed big rate hikes, said developers are paying to build new footpaths outside new housing in areas like Kumeu-Huapai but the development contribution is not being used to connect the subdivisions to townships.

“The net result is townships in the north and west of Auckland have non-connected, impracticable and unsafe footpaths.

“Local development contributions should be being spent back locally and not on subsidising other areas,” Sayers said.

An AT spokesman said each year about 50km of new road is built in private developments, which translates to about 100km of new footpaths, which are vested to AT.

The new footpath and renewal budgets also do not cover town centre upgrades.

The spokesman said in a typical year about 10 to 12 new footpath projects are done,primarily around connections to new housing areas.

The New Footpath programme provides sections of footpaths to enable access to community facilities and filling gaps in the network.

“These are typically small sections of footpaths with low risk profile supporting communities across Auckland,” the spokesman said.

In the mid to late 2000s, the former Auckland City Council spent about $120m replacing hundreds of kilometres of potentially dangerous footpaths and repairing other footpaths.

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