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Decision made for future of old Kopu Bridge

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The NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) announced today that the old Kopu Bridge will be deconstructed and a key part of its history will be preserved.

NZTA Regional Manager, Harry Wilson, says the decision is the only viable option left for the bridge, as no financially sound funding plan to retain the old bridge in its current location was put forward by interested parties during the consultation process.

“The feedback we received during the consultation period confirmed that the weight of public opinion is in favour of demolishing the old bridge. However, the bridge’s historic swing arm will be retained for present and future generations to enjoy.”

Mr Wilson says that an open day will be held prior to the start of deconstruction so the local community will have a last opportunity celebrate its history.

In its public consultation over the past year, the NZTA has engaged widely with key stakeholders, including the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT), interest groups and local communities to evaluate options for the fate of the old Kopu Bridge. A publicity campaign inviting feedback from the public about their views on the future of the old bridge was undertaken by the NZTA during February and March this year. The majority of submitters - 69% - supported demolition of the old bridge.

Formal Expressions of Interest (EOI) for adaptive re-use of the bridge were sought, by initiating a nationwide publicity campaign. This call for Expressions of Interest in September 2012, attracted a number of proposals for the old bridge’s future.  Of these, the Historic Kopu Bridge Society Inc.’s proposal was identified as suitable for further development into a business case.  The Society presented its business case to the NZTA in May 2013, and asked the Agency to transfer ownership of the bridge to the Society, to enable the restoration of the bridge for walking and cycling only.

However, Mr Wilson says the NZTA’s evaluation of the business case indicated that the Society had either not taken into account or sufficiently estimated the costs associated with a number of the activities required for the safe and sustainable future operation and maintenance of the bridge. “The reality is that it would cost about $2.3M to upgrade the bridge to safely use it for walking and cycling, plus around $250K every year to maintain it.”

“We applaud the efforts of the Society’s members in trying to find a way to preserve the bridge for future use and acknowledge how disappointing this decision must be for them and others who share their vision, including the NZ Historic Places Trust.  However, it was made very clear throughout the consultation process that any business case would need to identify a robust source for the significant funding required for the bridge’s long-term future. No proposals received – nor the Society’s business case – achieved this aspect,” says Mr Wilson.  

Hauraki District Council Mayor John Tregidga commented: “Although it would have been great to have kept the historic Kopu Bridge, we were adamant that its significant ongoing maintenance should not be a cost to our ratepayers, and, as no viable funding option to retain the bridge has been found, we support NZTA’s decision to demolish it.  We will now work with TCDC and the local community on what the best option is to retain the centre span,” Mayor Tregidga says.

Thames Coromandel District Council Mayor Glenn Leach commented: “This will be a great disappointment to The Historic Kopu Bridge Society, however we understand from NZTA's decision the Society's business case was not a viable one. We've always said from day one we would only support an option that didn't put any more financial pressure on our ratepayers, now and in the future.  We'll now focus on collaborating with all agencies and stakeholders, along with the community to look at the best place to relocate the swing arm of the bridge,” Mayor Leach says.

The New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT) has just been advised that NZTA has made a decision to demolish the historically significant Kopu Bridge, near Thames. 

The Kopu Bridge is registered Category 1 by the NZHPT as a place of special and outstanding historical heritage significance and value. 

The NZHPT had been working with NZTA, and encouraged them to seek expressions of interest proposals for the bridge’s retention and adaptive re-use.  A number of proposals were received, and the Historic Kopu Bridge Society was selected to further develop their proposal into a business case. NZTA has assessed the Society’s business proposal, which they do not support - and has therefore decided to demolish the bridge. 

“The NZTA decision is not a good heritage outcome and we are seeking further information to better understand the NZTA’s decision and how that was arrived at,” says the NZHPT’s General Manager Northern, Sherry Reynolds. 

Kopu Bridge is nationally significant as the only surviving road bridge of swing span type in the country. At the time of its completion in 1928, the structure was technologically advanced – particularly in its use of deep piles to counteract a soft riverbed and strong tidal currents – and was also one of the largest public works projects carried out at the time.

“The NZHPT remains committed to working with the community and NZTA to see if it is possible to achieve some positive outcomes for this nationally significant and iconic example of industrial heritage,” Ms Reynolds says.

No date has been set by the NZTA for the deconstruction of the Bridge. Before this work can begin, a number of steps must first be carried out:

  • Various consents need to be applied for and obtained from Hauraki District Council, Thames Coromandel District Council and Waikato Regional Council.
  • Engagement with stakeholders will be undertaken, including the Historic Places Trust and Councils, to identify options for placement of the swing arm.
  • Consultation with the community will also be required regarding the final placement of the swing arm.
  • A competitive tender process will be undertaken for the contract to carry out the removal of the structure and placement of swing arm.
  • The contract for the deconstruction project will be awarded and a contractor will need time set up on site.
  • A community open day will be held once the site is ready and secured for this public event.
  • Following the open day, deconstruction will begin.

“Because there are so many steps to be undertaken, at this stage we cannot give a date for deconstruction of the bridge,” says Mr Wilson.  “However, we would expect this process to take anywhere from six months to a year.” 

“We’ll make sure the community is made aware of the open day date once this is confirmed and we look forward to working with them to ensure the installation of the swing arm provides a suitable memorial to an icon which has been part of people’s lives and holidays over many years.”

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An artist's impression of the Kopu Bridge monument

For more information please contact:

Glenda Dobbyn
Media Manager Waikato and Bay of Plenty
NZ Transport Agency
DDI 64 07 9287908
M 021 021 67217
E glenda.dobbyn@nzta.govt.nz

Editor's notes

With the opening of the new Kopu Bridge in December 2011, the old Kopu Bridge is no longer required as part of the state highway network. The NZTA cannot continue to fund any future maintenance or upgrade of the old bridge, because it is no longer needed as part of the State Highway network.

Over the past year, the NZTA has engaged widely with key stakeholders (including both of the local councils and the NZ Historic Places Trust) and local communities to evaluate options for the fate of the old Kopu Bridge.

An independent consultant was engaged by the NZTA to facilitate the consultation process and to ensure that all possible options for the bridge were impartially considered and thoroughly evaluated.

Through initial consultation with key stakeholders, two options for the future of the bridge emerged:

  • Finding a way to re-use and open up the old bridge for the public to enjoy, and transferring ownership of the bridge to a Trust/Incorporated Society (“adaptive re-use”).
  • Demolishing the old bridge, but retaining the swing arm and creating a ‘bridge museum’ on land.

Formal Expressions of Interest (EOI) for adaptive re-use of the bridge were sought through a national publicity campaign to promote the EOI process.

The NZTA commissioned a Reuse Options Report which detailed the likely costs if the bridge was to be re-used, and this was provided to everyone who expressed an interest in submitting an EOI. The cost estimates in the Reuse Options Report were based on actual examples of other recent competitive tenders for State Highway bridge repair, inspection, repainting and maintenance contracts.

NZTA estimated that it would cost about $2.3M to upgrade the bridge to safely use it for walking and cycling, plus around $250K every year for maintenance.  All of this funding would have to be raised by the community group or trust who took over ownership of the bridge.

  • In November 2012 a public meeting was held in Thames to advise the local community about the process that had been undertaken and the options that were being considered for the bridge.
  • A nationwide publicity campaign inviting feedback from the public about their views on the future of the old bridge was undertaken in February – March 2013. Submissions could be made either on-line or by post.  One hundred and twenty-six responses were received.  The majority of submitters to the public feedback process
  • (69%) supported demolition of the old bridge.

In May 2013 the Historic Kopu Bridge Society Inc. presented a business case to the NZTA to transfer ownership of the bridge to the Society, with the intention of restoring the bridge and using it for walking and cycling.

  • Throughout the consultation process, there has been ongoing dialogue with NZTA staff and representatives of the NZ Historic Places Trust. The NZTA recognises that its decision to deconstruct the bridge does not support the NZHPT’s position, which is to retain the bridge in its current location.

Following a thorough evaluation of the business case presented by the Historic Kopu Bridge Society Inc., the NZTA has decided that the funding plan presented by the Society is not financially viable or sustainable. The Society has either underestimated or not accounted for the costs of a number of activities related to the future operation and maintenance of the bridge for safe use by the public.

The Society’s proposed contingency plan regarding future responsibility for the bridge if the Society fails to secure sufficient funding to continue to maintain the bridge is also unacceptable to the NZTA. The Society has assumed that the NZTA would take over responsibility for the bridge if they fail and this is not appropriate, (for the reason outlined at the start of these editors’ notes).

The NZTA understands that the future of the old bridge is of considerable interest, not only to the local community, but also to national agencies, such as the NZ Historic Places Trust and IPENZ. However, because no viable, financially sustainable business case has been presented to retain the bridge in its current location, and because of the weight of public opinion in favour of demolishing the bridge (69%), the decision has been made to deconstruct the bridge and to retain the historic swing arm in an appropriate location for present and future generations to enjoy.

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