Auckland could be about to get a late Christmas present. It’s appearing more and more likely that the government will agree to start to the City Rail Link in 2018, two years earlier than the 2020 date they set back in 2013 when they first agreed to the project. To go with the what, we also know the where and when, Stuff reports:
Prime Minister John Key is expected to announce the Government will help fund Auckland’s $2.5 billion inner city rail link two years earlier than originally promised.
It’s understood the PM will make the commitment in a speech to the Auckland Chamber of Commerce on January 27.
Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett confirmed Key would address its membership on the issue of infrastructure funding for the city.
It would be similar to his announcement in 2013 in that he would outline the government’s future commitment to the city “and I think give some clarity and certainty to some of the investment in infrastructure that needs to be made”.
Asked if that would include a statement on the timing of the CRL funding, Barnett replied: “If they put a stake in the ground and then there’s clarity, then everyone can work around that.”
The Chamber of Commerce supported a 2018 start for the rail project, he said.
As I pointed out in my year ahead post last week we’ve been hearing noises that an agreement between the council and government is close for a while so it hasn’t come as a surprise that something may be about to happen. In fact I think the main thing stopping it from having been made earlier has been the Christmas/New Year holidays and lead up to them putting a dampener on the level of political credit the government will want to bask in.
Pressure has been mounting on the government to do something for months and one reason has been the stellar patronage growth that we’ve been witnessing. It has risen an impressive 23% over the last year Auckland is on track to reach the 20 million target by 2o20 around three years early.
As I also mentioned in my year ahead post, the announcement be the council funding their share from 2018 with the government still not committing any cash till 2020. If this occurs perhaps they’ll off some sort of deal.
Making the announcement to the Chamber of Commerce is significant for a few reasons.
As I understand it, Auckland’s various business lobbies have been quite active behind the scene, pushing the government to commit to an earlier start date. They see the value in the project and also the value in minimising disruption. Waiting till 2020 leaves roughly a two year gap during which many businesses in the city – but particularly those along the route – will be in a state of limbo. Delaying the project also affects more than just the rail network as it also delays other projects to improve Auckland that are dependent on the CRL being completed, one example is the proposed Victoria St linear park but there are a heap of others.
It was to the Chamber of Commerce back in 2013 that the government first announced it would support the CRL after years of bitter opposition to it. Again back then the business lobbies were also a key factor in getting the government to change their position on the project. Of course as part of the same announcement the government also launched their accelerated Motorways package that fast tracked projects such as the Kirkbride Rd grade separation, southern motorway widening and the big package of works planned for the area around where SH18 joins SH1.
It raises the question of whether John Key will announce support for the CRL alongside any other projects. As we know the Reserve Bank of NZ has already said the government should consider accelerating infrastructure projects in Auckland. As such it’s entirely possible any announcement could also contain funding for other projects too (including non-transport projects). The concern would be if the announcement also included a number of projects designed to encourage significant growth on the urban fringe at the expense of enabling greater housing supply closer to the city.
Lastly an announcement would be a significant win for Mayor Len Brown. When he first became mayor the project was in its infancy and he has pushed it as the number one project for the city since that time with the backing of the council. To Len, if the government support the project starting sooner, then thank you.
I’ve already been counting the days till January 27 to see just what is announced.