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Scrapped harbour crossing plan leaves Northcote residents in limbo

Residents whose homes were purchased by Waka Kotahi to make way for a new walking and cycling bridge across Waitematā Harbour have been left in limbo now the project has been scrapped.

Aerial view of Auckland harbour bridge. It is the second-longest road bridge in New Zealand, and the longest in the North Island.
Photo: 123RF

The government set aside $785 million for a second Waitematā Harbour crossing, and although the idea was dropped almost as soon as it had been announced - behind the scenes the wheels had already begun turning.

The Transport Agency Waka Kotahi paid out just over $12m for four houses in Northcote.

David Hendersen still lives in his Princes Street home, but is not sure how long that will last.

"I'm hoping they're going to offer the house back, as it appears to have no use whatsoever for NZTA.

"It's a family home - it's where I want to stay for the rest of my life."

But he said Waka Kotahi had not been clear about what it planned to do.

"We have asked and asked, and told them we want the place back. All we get is that they're thinking about it ... thinking about what?

"Either you're going to proceed with doing something and come up with a reason why you need the houses - and to date they haven't even come up with a reason why they need them."

In early 2020, as the country was entering level 4 lockdown for the first time, the Waka Kotahi began approaching residents in Northcote about a potential purchase.

The transport minister would not go on to publicly announce plans to build a separate bridge for another year.

The project would have begun in just a few weeks' time, however, it was scrapped six months ago due to a lack of public support.

Phil Moore refused to sell, saying Waka Kotahi came in with a lowball offer which was well below a valuation from four years earlier.

He was just about to begin major renovations on the property, but has had to put them hold ever since, leaving him with a quote that is no longer relevant.

"So the half a million dollar [renovation] price that I got from my builder two years ago is no longer half a million. It could be $700,000, $800,000 - I don't know, but it will not be half a million and my builder told me that.

"So I'm saying to NZTA: why should I be out of pocket?"

He said the constant free option Waka Kotahi had over his home has kept him in no man's land for two years.

"You imagine you've got your biggest asset and you can't do anything, you can't sell it ... I can't liquidate my assets.

"If a family member got ill and I needed to pay urgently for hospitalisation I can't pay, I can't access my money."

He had managed to get some compensation from Waka Kotahi, but is thinking about taking court action to recoup his losses for the extra it will now cost him to do the renovations, as well as any reduction in valuation during the time he has been unable to sell.

Waka Kotahi spent more than $51m on the project, $12.2m of that was on property acquisitions.

Transport Minister Michael Wood said final decisions about the properties were yet to be made.

A Waka Kotahi spokesperson said the agency was continuing to explore options for walking and cycling across the Waitematā Harbour and it would not discuss plans, to protect residents' privacy.

Simeon Brown, MP for Pakuranga
Simeon Brown Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The National Party said if the project was not going ahead, the previous owners should have a chance to buy their homes back.

Transport spokesperson Simeon Brown said the government needed to come clean on its plans.

"If they're not going ahead with the bridge they should be going through the process which is returning those properties to the people they purchased them off - or at least giving them the option.

"But what it sounds like is that the government's still considering some form of walking and cycling bridge over the harbour, which is completely against what they said to New Zealanders back in October and I think that's very concerning. They need to be upfront about what their actual intentions are."

Brown said through asking written questions of the government his understanding was that a separate walking and cycling lane on the bridge was back on the table.

"My understanding is that was ruled out by Waka Kotahi's board at the end of last year, but that's now back on the cards as the minister has requested them to consider all opportunities."