The NZ Herald reports:
In a surprise move, Transport Minister Phil Twyford yesterday announced that the New Zealand Superannuation Fund – often referred to as the “Cullen Fund” after former Finance Minister Michael Cullen – would take over the financing and delivery of the City Rail Link project under downtown Auckland.
Mr Twyford justified the decision by saying that “the NZ Super Fund and their Canadian partners CDPQ Infra have made an unsolicited bid to combine construction of the City Rail Link with light rail.
SPV PPP BOOT means that both projects will be delivered at no initial cost to taxpayers and ratepayers, with only ongoing operational costs of $1 billion a year for the next 200 years.” Mr Twyford added that this approach was modelled on the Milldale infrastructure funding agreement for the new suburb north of Auckland next to Millwater and the future Millvile and Millmill.
NZ Super Fund Chief Executive Matt Whineray confirmed the agreement, noting that this “public public partnership” SPV BOOT HIF arrangement would deliver great returns to the Fund in the years to come, but that their Canadian partners proposed a redesign of the City Rail Link project.
Mr Whineray explained that as part of the deal, the route would be changed “…to serve Wynyard Quarter, the University and the Hospital through a 5 kilometre long tunnel, as opposed to the previously designed much shorter tunnel.” He added that “…a longer tunnel that’s more expensive to construct provides a better long-term return to the Super Fund”. CDPQ Infra could not be reached for comment, but it is understood that they came up with the new route while playing ice-hockey in Montreal.
When questioned about the route change, City Rail Link Limited Chief Executive Sean Sweeney sighed heavily before saying “…much like the light-rail project, politicians seem happy to throw years of investigation and design work away just because local business and infrastructure lobbies as well as a Canadian pension fund have convinced them charging an interest premium is the same as free money”.
Mr Sweeney was last seen banging his head against a concrete wall in the nearly complete but now unnecessary tunnel under Albert Street.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff had no strong feelings either way on the change. “Well on the one hand it’s great that I can now keep rates down to 2.5% despite Auckland being the fastest growing city in Australasia, infrastructure crumbling all around me, a climate emergency, and underfunded parks and libraries, but on the other hand the new route does seems like an awfully indirect connection and will take longer to build.”
Auckland Councillor, and long-time NZ Herald hero, Mike Lee was highly supportive of the changes. “It’s common sense to make the tunnel longer, because it means that Auckland’s rail network is getting bigger than it would have been under the previous proposal“. Mr Lee also said he was pleased to hear that the new design would be future proofed by including junctions to allow a number of new rail corridors to be built “This means that Auckland’s rail network can continue to grow and it is preferable that all lines make use of this new tunnel“.
It is understood some of new rail routes being planned for stage two of CDPQ’s plan will include trains serving the North Shore, inner west, northwest, central isthmus, east Auckland and the airport. With so many routes sharing the tunnel, each line will run every 20 minutes at peak time and to increase capacity, stations are now being designed for 15-car trains. As part of the plan, multi-storey park and ride buildings, each with space for thousands of cars, are expected to be built at every station.
Infrastructure NZ head Stephen Selwood said that he was particularly happy with the new route. “This is the route that we advocated for back in 2012 when the project was first developed, despite at the time being deemed infeasible. Our members are especially pleased that it will be much more expensive than before, while personally I’m happy that it will increase total public transport usage by 0.1%.”
Auckland Chamber of Commerce head Michael Barnett was also pleased with the news. “We’ve been saying for years that there’s no difference between funding and financing and that billions of dollars of Chinese money is just looking for projects to spend itself on.” Mr Barnett also said that he was looking forward to the money saved from the now much more expensive City Rail Link project to be spent on Penlink immediately. “Without a doubt Penlink is the most important project in Auckland!”
The changes to CRL’s financing, delivery and route appear likely to severely affect the timeframes for its completion. But Minister Twyford seemed unfazed by this saying that “construction will definitely start next year, probably some time just before an event I won’t name that is typically held every three years“.
Auckland Transport are interested in using the nearly completed and now un-needed Albert St tunnels for a cycleway with CEO Shane Ellison noting “this is the perfect opportunity for us to deliver cycling infrastructure that is completely separated from cars and can be done without sacrificing car parking”.
Greater Auckland was asked for comment, but did not reply before the deadline. Their members were last seen accompanying Mr Sweeney into the Albert Street tunnel.