The historic one-lane Kopu Bridge near Thames has been saved.
The future of the class one heritage-listed structure has been uncertain since the new Kopu Bridge was opened in December, 2011, with many calling for it to be pulled down.
After more than six years of negotiations, New Zealand Transport Agency has handed over the maintenance and financial responsibility of the bridge to the Kopu Bridge and Community Trust.
If within the five years the trust indicates that they cannot manage the project, NZTA can take back ownership of the bridge.
Trust chair Ross Bayer says trust members were excited about the agreement.
"They’re quite excited about it, especially those who have been working on it for a long time trying to get it to this stage.
"There’s been a lot of negotiating and making a case for saving such an important historic structure."
The trust plans to open the bridge to the public in about 12- to 18-months for pedestrians, cyclists and fishing.
"It’s another asset for the community and potentially another drawcard for people to come here and it’s our expectation that tens of thousands of people a year will travel over that bridge, either on bicycles or walk on it."
But first, work was needed to repair the central swing-span bridge, which opened in 1928. It is structurally sound, but work was needed to restore the hand railings that had fallen into disrepair and the bridge would also be tidied and painted, he says.
The Kopu Bridge and Community Trust is now financially responsible for the old Kopu Bridge, which hasn’t been maintained for six years.
The first step was to develop a heritage plan for the bridge, which needed to be signed off by Heritage New Zealand, he says.
"Any structure like this that’s had any work done on it has to be done in a style that’s appropriate," he says.
"Once we have agreement from Heritage New Zealand on the heritage conservation plan, then we just work on the health and safety elements that allow us to do the work we need to do to get it up to a safe standard."
Bayer was unsure how much it would cost to bring the bridge up to standard. The trust would seek funding for the work on the 400m-long bridge and ongoing maintenance from sponsors and heritage funds, he says.
The bridge had been instrumental in the development of Thames, he says.
"It’s been that link across the river so the economic development of this area has been with the construction of the bridge."
NZTA transport system manager Karen Boyt says the transport agency is pleased to have reached an agreement with the trust.
"The old Kopu Bridge is a historic structure, and we recognise it’s past, engineering legacy and early contribution to regional economic development."
NZTA had heard the views of many people ahead of the decision about the bridge’s future, she says.
"Over the past years we have engaged widely with local councils, Heritage New Zealand, and the community to evaluate options and have used an independent consultant to facilitate part of that process.
"We are pleased to have reached this agreement and we hope to see the bridge restored to something that the public can get enjoyment out of."