Aside from the City Rail Link and Light Rail, probably the most exciting and transformational project planned over the next few years in Auckland is SkyPath, a walking and cycling connection across the Auckland Harbour Bridge. SkyPath has had a pretty long and tortuous history, dating right back to a 2009 protest against NZTA’s weird refusal to allow people to walk across the Harbour Bridge to celebrate its 50th birthday. The SkyPath trust then worked for years to push for the project, even setting up a fairly innovative public-private partnership, gaining resource consent which required doing detailed design work.
Over the time that Skypath was developed as a PPP, which would have required walkers and cyclists would pay a toll to cross while cars crossed for free, the importance of good quality active mode infrastructure became recognised by our politicians. Budgets for cycling were significantly increased, particularly by the previous government’s Urban Cycleways Programme. As a result, we ended up with the bizarre situation where Skypath, as the number one ranked cycling project in the city couldn’t get funding but other projects which cost similar amounts could.
Finally, last year the new government committed to building and paying for SkyPath – and it was included in both the ATAP programme and specifically referenced in the Government Policy Statement.
Given the high priority of SkyPath and the urgency to deliver this critical missing link in Auckland’s walking and cycling network, it is worrying that reports from Radio NZ earlier this week suggest that progress is happening much slower than expected – seemingly due to some arguments over intellectual property of the Skypath option:
The project director of Auckland’s proposed SkyPath says the New Zealand Transport Agency will not pay up for intellectual property rights, and has now shut down communication with the original designers…
…Funding for the project has been approved, although a date for completion has not been set.
SkyPath Trust, which designed the proposed pathway, is in a battle to have the agency pay up for the intellectual property rights it owns.
Trust project director Bevan Woodward said he has been trying for a year to get an agreement signed for the rights to the design.
“We’ve been very clear right from the word go that to acquire our intellectual property comes at a cost of $1.6 million plus GST, and that’s what we require to pay the consultants who worked on SkyPath for so many years, on a deferred fees basis.”
SkyPath told the agency about the cost of the project’s intellectual property rights in February last year.
The trust had meet with the agency to share project information as recently as October, and was told an agreement over the intellectual property rights would be in place by Christmas.
Reluctantly, the trust accepted a proposal to get a quarter of the payment up front, and the rest when a detailed business case was signed off.
However, the date for sorting the agreement keeps getting pushed back, and still is not in place.
This was expanded upon yesterday with the revelation the that the NZTA are asking for all the work, for free, or they won’t even consider it. This also has a potential impact on Auckland Ratepayers
The letter demands that the trust gives NZTA “unrestricted access” to its plans, so the agency can contract the consultants the trust has used “without limitation or impediment”.
Or, the agency said it would not include the trust’s designs in those it puts forward for consideration as part of a detailed business case that was being drawn up.
“NZTA is not prepared to commit to paying for the intellectual property rights … (including the consented SkyPath) until the business case phase is complete and an option is selected,” Mr Ratcliffe wrote to the trust.
This was happening behind the scenes, at the same time the Transport Agency was saying publicly that it recognised the valuable work of the trust and was working to settle the dispute about its design.
“It demands we hand everything over for no payment and no commitment of payment,” Mr Woodward said.
“It is manifestly unreasonable.”
Given the Skypath trust did the kind of design and consenting work that NZTA and their predecessors should have done in the first place, decades ago, it’s not unreasonable that they would like to be paid for the information – especially as the money will basically go to experts who essentially worked for free on the project. What’s more, it’s not like they’re strangers to paying for intellectual property as they routinely pay the losing bidders in tender processes for their work. This article from Interest.co.nz is from 2012 and while it might not be the exact same situation, it feels pretty close.
NZTA spokesman Andy Knackstedt says for larger State Highway projects, where tenderers are asked to do significant proportions of the highway design work as part of their submissions, NZTA buys the intellectual property (IP) rights of these tender designs.
“This ensures any value in the tender designs developed by unsuccessful tenderers remains accessible to the NZTA,” Knackstedt says.
“For example, the Waterview Connection project is three times the size of a typical roading project, and unlike other projects, there was little historical data available on tunnelling that tenderers could draw on in preparing their bids,” Darwin added.
I think we can fairly easily say that nothing like Skypath has been built before and so would fit in the “little historical data” category.
But perhaps what’s most worrying about all of this is that it’s leading to more and more delays of what is such a critical missing link. Starting the business case and design process again from scratch almost feels like a deliberate delaying tactic. We know there have been some within the NZTA that have always opposed the idea and so it’s not hard to imagine this being related.
Obviously NZTA needs to do its job and fully assess different options, perhaps given the growth in cycling a different and larger solution is needed, but unless there are any huge red flags with the Skypath proposal it should push ahead.