This week we saw the government do a massive U-Turn on its support for the City Rail Link and then a few days later agree to a bucket full of roading projects. While we can debate the merits of these projects, crucially the three main projects – The CRL, AMETI and the East-West Link and an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing – are the three at the top of the priority list in the Auckland Plan. This is significant as it suggests that the government agrees with one of the aspects of the plan that it had previous expressed the most doubt about. Whether that has been done purely for political reasons or not doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.
The announcement certainly caught a few people out. Councillors like Cameron Brewer and Dick Quax had previously used the lack of government support as a reason to oppose the CRL and so are now having to find new ways of opposing the project with the next battleground appearing to be about the funding. The timing of this announcement is even more intriguing given that local body elections are only a few months away. While nothing can ever be guaranteed in politics it is a massive boost to Len Brown and one which would almost certainly see him re-elected. So spare a thought for candidate John Palino who has not only seen his chances of winning the Auckland mayoralty plummet but who also suffered from a case of spectacularly bad timing.
Earlier in the week we saw noises from both Cameron Brewer and from George Wood complaining about the issue of funding. John Palino perhaps sensing an opportunity to also attack Len Brown put out the following press release on Tuesday afternoon. I have bolded the most important parts.
I’ll put the local back into local government
“Mayor Brown’s decision not to give Aucklanders the final say on what equates to a permanent 30 per cent increase in rates contradicts the very principle of local government and will further harm Auckland’s critical relationship with Wellington,” says Mayoral candidate John Palino.
“Auckland has massive transport challenges and none greater than finding the investment the city needs. The Consensus Building Group’s investigation into funding Auckland’s transport is a good start to the discussion, but the Mayor proposes that it’s also the end.
“That’s not local democracy, especially when the Consensus Building Group never had central government support and was not allowed to question the key projects driving the need for new taxation.
“The Mayor established the group to consider options for covering a projected $10-15 billion transport funding deficit over the next 30 years. That deficit is made up of the Mayor’s key projects – the $2.8 billion city rail link; the $5 billion additional harbour crossing; and the $2-3 billion AMETI and East-West link project.
“These three projects do not deliver good transport outcomes for Auckland and this shows up in the analysis which shows the transport benefits of these projects to be greatly outweighed by the costs. The return on the AMETI and East-West Link project is still unclear, but the CRL returns 40 cents for each dollar invested and the harbour crossing returns 30 cents.
“In establishing the Consensus group, the Mayor has tried to deflect ongoing and unresolved evidence that his transport programme is flawed, doesn’t return the benefits which would otherwise offset their cost, won’t improve congestion and will require a further $400 million per annum in taxes each and every year forever.
“As Mayor, I won’t be selecting projects as part of my campaign, but I’ll be holding those agencies to account for developing solutions that meet Auckland’s needs – something the Mayor’s programme doesn’t do.
“If we can get a transport programme which delivers the quality of life Aucklanders demand, then I’ll look at funding options alongside and not independent of central government. We have to work together if we’re going to get positive outcomes.
“And most of all, I’ll give you the final say on whether you think such a significant proposal will help deliver the city you want to live in,” says Mr Palino.
Of course the very next morning Gerry Brownlee had started hinting to reporters that the government was about to support the City Rail Link and by the early afternoon John Key had confirmed it. Auckland was to get the CRL and like all politicians wanting to be noticed put out a press release (but only on his facebook page that I can find)
Media Statement from John Palino on Government’s Funding of CRL
John Palino Welcomes Government’s Decision to Fund CRL: But Let’s Make Sure We Get It Right First Time
I welcome the decision from Central Government in regards to supporting the City Rail Link with it due to start in 2020.
I also welcome the decision that Central Government will fund 50% of the project cost for this crucial piece of transport here in the heart of Auckland.
While some might complain at the long start date, it is important that both Auckland Council and Central Government have all their T’s crossed and all their I’s dotted on what will be one of Auckland’s largest civic projects.
If this is not done before the first sod is turned on the CRL, we risk budget and construction blow outs so commonly seen with these kind of projects around the world.
We need to get this right first time as it is the only time to get it right.
Of course if there is provision to bring the start forward then I will lobby Central Government, providing it is prudent to do so.
It is time to get Our Auckland Moving Forward – sensibly
So in the space of just over 24 hours he went from suggesting that the CRL would have bad transport outcomes (based on an out of date and dodgy review of the original business case) to welcoming funding for it. U Turns in politics happen from time to time but the speed of this one is more like someone just pulled up the handbrake in a bid to prevent running into a concrete wall. Of course two days later the government also agreed to the other two projects John said delivered bad transport outcomes. John definitely had the rug pulled out from under him by the government.
I’m keen to start keeping a track of statements made by either politicians or others who suggest that the CRL is not worth it so that we can hold them to account in the future. I remember that before Britomart a lot of people claimed that the project would be a massive failure yet the absolute opposite has happened and it would be good to highlight this now. I would like to be able to do this with the CRL.