Govt’s policy refocus: supporters of Auckland’s light rail project will be encouraged by City Rail Link appointment

Buzz from the Beehive

In one of his first pronouncements after Chris Hipkins became PM, Transport Minister Michael Wood – and Minister for Auckland after the cabinet reshuffle – confirmed that the light rail project is part of the government’s policy refocus.

Opponents of the project will hope this makes the project a candidate for Hipkins’ bonfire of unpalatable policies and programmes  (Labour’s burning issues, so to speak).

Supporters of the project will hope it is kept alive.

But they are nervous about the implications of any rethink, according to  a report on the Greater Auckland website on February 2:

Wood said the light rail project was under review as part of a ministerial refocus on key Government projects.

“We are undertaking a stocktake about how we move things forward. We will be able to confirm the direction in a couple of weeks,” he said.

He said he did want to focus on fixing Auckland congestion and said public transport, even if it wasn’t light rail, would be a priority.

Wood was somewhat enigmatic, however, when it came to firm commitment:

Asked if he was still committed to Auckland Light Rail, Wood said the Government was “in general, committed to high quality public transport”.

He said other projects would include water infrastructure, especially storm water. He said there needed to be better coordination between transport, council, and water agencies about storm water – which had meant the flooding was impacting some suburbs more severely than others.

The author of the Greater Auckland report described Wood’s wording as “ominous” and suggested a major change potentially was coming, including dropping the project altogether.

We’ve long criticised the project in its current form and hope as part of this review that the project is right-sized not dropped.

As I wrote late last year, we think a more sensible plan would be to first scale the project back to something that is achievable but that can be delivered and upgraded over time rather than trying to do a massive project all in one go.

We don’t know if the Greater Auckland team has been assured by Wood’s announcement on Friday:

John Bridgman to lead completion of City Rail Link Ltd as new Chair

Transport Minister Michael Wood and Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown today announced the appointment of John Bridgman as new Chair of City Rail Link Limited, replacing Sir Brian Roche.

This was posted on the Beehive website along with news that–

Govt delivers support package for NGOs and community groups

The Government has announced an $11.5 million Community Support Package to help tens of thousands of people affected by the recent floods, and as regions prepare to respond to Cyclone Gabrielle.

NZ investors receive boost after US grants excepted status

New Zealand has been granted excepted foreign state investor status from the United States, making it easier for New Zealand investors to invest in the US and deepen ties with a key trade partner.    

New Ambassador to UAE

Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta today announced the appointment of Richard Kay as New Zealand’s next ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.    

Further support for quake hit Türkiye and Syria

The Government has announced New Zealand will provide further humanitarian funding and specialist technical assistance to support relief efforts in Türkiye and Syria.   

Government support for flooded Thames-Coromandel communities

Minister for Emergency Management Kieran McAnulty has announced an initial contribution of $100,000 to the Mayoral Relief Fund to help flood affected communities in Thames-Coromandel.

In his statement on Friday, Michael Wood said City Rail Link is New Zealand’s largest transport infrastructure project and will have a transformative impact on businesses and residents in Auckland.

This suggests “refocus” does not amount to incineration in this case.

Wood said:

“John has the right skills and experience to lead the Board as it navigates some of the most challenging conditions in New Zealand construction history, while maintaining its focus on delivering a world-class urban underground rail system.”

He said the City Rail Link, as with other comparable international infrastructure projects, was being built under global pandemic conditions, with accompanying resource constraints and increased costs for both materials and labour.

“It is vital we have a Chair who has proven his ability to manage complex and challenging business conditions – and we believe John has those qualities.

“John has significant experience in engineering and project management with an excellent working knowledge of civil engineering in a rail context and has led the delivery on significant infrastructure projects in New Zealand, Australia, Asia and the UK.”

Wood thanked Sir Brian Roche for his dedicated service, expertise and experience as Chair of City Rail Link Ltd.

“He successfully led the project through a crucial period, ensuring the project remained on track,” Michael Wood said.

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown contributed to the ministerial statement.

He said he had confidence in Bridgman taking responsibility for getting the CRL project finished “as soon as possible without undue cost increases”.

When finished, fitted out, fully tested, and supported by modernised lines, crossings, and stations throughout the region, the City Rail Link would give Auckland the world-class passenger train network that residents of and visitors to other large cities have taken for granted for generations, Brown said.

“After all planned improvements to the network are finished in the years following the completion of the CRL itself, Aucklanders and our visitors will see a nine-carriage train arriving at stations as frequently as once every two minutes, carrying up to 54,000 people an hour at peak times across the network.

“The CRL and the world-class regional rail network it will enable must be at the heart of the single, big, joined-up transport plan Auckland needs, linking cars, buses, trains, cycleways, light rail, the port, shipping, ferries – everything.”

The press release said Sir Brian and Bridgman will work together for an effective handover in the coming months.


But not too long ago we learned from the New Zealand Herald that the Government’s plans for light rail in Auckland were in fresh trouble.

Treasury was forecasting rising costs (but has anybody ever forecast declining costs on projects like this?)

Moreover, a council source was quoted as saying it would be “a cold day in hell” before Mayor Brown agreed to any ratepayer funding.

The council source said the mayor understood the political importance the Government puts on light rail and will not get in the way of planning, but it will be taxpayers, not ratepayers, picking up the estimated $14.6 billion cost.

“It would be a cold day in hell before the mayor agreed for a cent of ratepayers’ funding to go into the project,” the source said.

A mayoral spokesperson told the Herald those were not the words the mayor would use to express Auckland Council’s long-standing position that light rail is a central government project, being driven and funded by central government.

Point of Order recalls an earlier joint statement from the Beehive, back on 10 December, in the names of Michael Wood and Wayne Brown.

The Government at that time was confirming investment in the next phases of the Eastern Busway.

Alongside this step, Auckland Council and the Government confirmed a path ahead  for crucial future-proofing projects such as getting the best return out of the City Rail Link, Auckland Light Rail and the Alternative Waitemata Harbour crossing.

The Minister and Mayor also acknowledged the Eastern busway extension is an important step towards an agreed broader plan to futureproof Auckland with one high-quality, joined-up transport system, which includes cars, buses, trains, ferries, cyclists, pedestrians, freight and passenger rail and light rail.

As well as enhancements to the existing transport system, the agreed plan will include a range of projects including maximising the return from the CRL through heavy rail improvements, the Northwestern busway, Auckland Light Rail, and the Alternative Waitemata Harbour crossing.

The agreed joined-up plan will require clear decisions and timelines to be made about the future use of Auckland’s publicly owned waterfront land, currently being used by Ports of Auckland Ltd.

“The Government and Council have committed to work together to advance our priorities, provide certainty and deliver progress for Auckland,” Mayor Brown said.

Brown said he and the Minister agreed it was important for there to be a focus on the immediate and pressing needs facing Auckland, including reducing congestion, establishing a clear plan and timeline for the future of Auckland’s publicly owned waterfront land  and fixing Auckland’s current public transport crisis.

Alongside this, Wood said, he and the Mayor

“… will work together constructively on city-shaping initiatives that we are strongly committed to and have mandates to advance including work on the Mass Rapid Transit system including buses, trains, ferries, the CRL, Auckland Light Rail and the Alternative Waitemata Harbour Crossing. This work will be supported by the Government’s draft New Zealand freight and supply chain strategy to be published by June next year, which will inform investment decisions by central and local government and the private sector.”

Drawing  attention to that joint statement for the Herald’s January 19 report, the council spokesperson said:

 “While the mayor is sceptical about the case for light rail, that is the proper context for it to be discussed.”

National’s transport spokesman Simeon Brown said National will scrap “this expensive and wasteful Labour Party vanity project”.

If it doesn’t get tossed on to the Hipkins bonfire, in other words, it is a candidate for burning on a Luxon bonfire, if National gets to head the next government.

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