An article last week in Stuff once again raised the issue of light rail and suggested the bid by NZ Infra, the collaboration between the NZ Superfund and their Canadian partners, was still on the table.
The New Zealand Superannuation Fund is still in the picture for Auckland’s light rail scheme, with a decision expected on what the new plan will look like scheduled for after the general election.
The Ministry of Transport is currently in talks with the NZ Super Fund about buying the intellectual property associated with their light rail designs.
Suzanne Cookson, who looks after communications and stakeholder engagement at the Ministry of Transport, said it was working on advice for a “public service delivery model” for Auckland light rail, but that doesn’t mean the plans submitted by NZ Infra and NZTA are dead.
Instead, the ministry is looking to buy the intellectual property from those proposals to potentially use for a future plan.
Cookson said the Crown “has the option of negotiating rights to intellectual property in the proposals – which were developed at the respondents’ own cost and risk.
“The ministry has initiated IP [intellectual property] discussions with both respondents.”
She said the model eventually proposed by the ministry might not look like either the NZ Infra plan or the NZTA plan, but “depending on the outcome of IP discussions, may draw on technical evidence from the proposals”.
This potentially opens the door to the Government using some of NZ Infra’s proposals should it wish to.
Buying the IP from NZ Infra is not quite the same as having them “still in the picture” as the headline and opening line suggests. It’s also not a surprise as back in June when the light rail decision was announced, the government said:
“The Ministry of Transport and the Treasury will report back after the general election on the best option for this project to be delivered by the public sector. The Ministry of Transport and the Treasury will also engage with NZ Infra and Waka Kotahi about how work done on this project can support the next phase.
Overall I think buying the IP is probably worthwhile. There is likely a lot of technical and planning information that is worthwhile for whatever scheme is developed post-election. Though I’m not quite sure why they would need to buy the IP from Waka Kotahi NZTA.
As to what scheme is eventually developed.
The Labour Party backs an NZ Infra-style light metro system, with the track completely separated from pedestrian and car traffic. This would make the system faster, but also much more expensive.
Twyford said he backed light metro. “Our policy is that light metro is the form of rapid transit that Auckland needs,” he said.
“A light metro system just like you see in places like London or Tokyo is faster and more efficient, giving workers and communities quicker commutes.
“This means more people will use it, which will help free up the roads and reduce Auckland’s emissions more than a street car model would.
“It’s also safer as it doesn’t compete with pedestrians and other cars on the road. On top of that, the urban development potential around the stations is improved with more people using it, which gives businesses better opportunities as well.”
We’ve discussed the differences between light rail and light metro many times but putting that aside, one of the issues I’ve had with the process is that the government weren’t upfront about the change to focus on light metro. This meant there was no real opportunity for the public to have a debate about the benefits and disadvantages of that approach. Going for such a system can sound good on paper but as we’ve discussed costs a lot more for not that much more benefit over light rail, which is not a street car model as Twyford suggests.
As always it’s about tradeoffs, as Green Party transport spokeswomen and Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter highlights.
“The Green Party has always supported the original plan developed by AT and NZTA for street-level light rail with a dedicated right-of-way,” Genter said.
“That plan still can benefit from some refinement and optimisation to achieve faster travel times to the airport, but its main purpose is to connect communities.”
She said the lower cost of street-level light rail would allow the Government to build other light rail lines.
“Surface light rail on the Dominion Rd route will be more accessible, and quicker and cheaper to put in place. That means more money to invest in more rapid transit lines around Auckland, like rail to the North Shore and northwest,” Genter said.
That last sentence from Genter hits the nail on the head. What if for the price of one light metro line we could get three or four surface light rail lines. Which option would provide the most overall benefits?
Does NPS-UD change things?
Whenever the Ministry start to work on whatever the new plan is, it will be interesting to see what role the new National Policy Statement on Urban Development has on it. The requirement that councils must allow buildings up to 6-storeys within at least a walkable catchment of existing and planned rapid transit stops means the designers and planners can be more confident on the land use response and that it will enable a lot more nearby housing.
OIAing the bids
Back in June, following the announcement of the end of the process I sent Official Information Act requests to the Ministry of Transport, Waka Kotahi NZTA and the NZ Superfund asking for bid documents. These were declined but the Superfund response was interesting nonetheless.
To explain, the bid was submitted by NZ Infra Limited which is a New Zealand limited liability company established on a commercial basis by the New Zealand Superannuation Fund (NZSF) and Canadian infrastructure investor CDPQ Infra, a subsidiary of Canadian institutional investor Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec. NZSF and CDPQ Infra are (through subsidiary entities) 50:50 shareholders in NZ Infra.
As part of a competitive and confidential delivery partner selection process run by the Ministry of Transport, NZ Infra developed a comprehensive and detailed proposal for the City Centre to Māngere Light Rail project, utilising the expertise of a range of global and local experts.
The bid documents that were presented to the Government in November 2019, including reports prepared on behalf of NZ Infra by external partners and consultants, are highly commercially sensitive and confidential, and remain the valuable intellectual property of NZ Infra.
In responding to Official Information Act requests we typically provide of a list of the documents that have been requested and the withholding grounds applicable to each. In this case, while we have reviewed these documents and considered whether to do this, we have concluded that their names and nature, including the details of the parties that authored or contributed to these reports, are confidential and commercially sensitive. Disclosing the number, names or nature of these reports in any shape or manner would both breach our confidentiality undertakings and provide readers with an insight into the scope of nature of the due diligence undertaken by NZ Infra. Given NZSF and CDPQ Infra wish to pursue further infrastructure investment opportunities, disclosing this information would be unreasonably prejudicial to our commercial position, by undermining our ability to negotiate with potential advisers and our positioning in future competitive bid processes.
We have considered whether the public interest in favour of disclosing the information outweighs our reasons for withholding it, and have concluded that it does not. We note that the Guardians of NZ Superannuation, the Crown entity that manages, the NZSF has identified domestic infrastructure investment as a key and ideal investment category through which it can advance the Ministerial directive it has received from the NZ Government to explore ways of increasing the allocation to New Zealand assets in the NZSF, in a manner consistent with the NZSF’s commercial mandate. This consideration further reinforces the public interest consideration in withholding the information. We also note that the public interest in the relevant information you have requested is significantly reduced given that:
- NZ Infra’s involvement in the City Centre to Māngere Light Rail Project has ceased; and
- Significant amounts of information concerning the City Centre to Māngere Light Rail Project are already available to the public.
You don’t normally get that much of a response when saying no.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Transport said:
the Ministry are working to prepare a comprehensive package of materials relating to the Auckland Light Rail project for proactive release. The information that you have requested will be within the scope of this package.
I anticipate that this proactive release material will be available on the Ministry of Transport website by mid August 2020, recognising that sufficient time for consultations will be required.
We’re a bit past mid August now.