The agenda for tomorrow’s meeting of Auckland Council’s governing body contains a very interesting item on the City Rail Link project (page 27 onwards). It would seem as though Auckland Council and Auckland Transport have become somewhat sick and tired of the government’s tactics in relation to the project – and are looking to effectively “go it alone” in terms of advancing to the next stage of making the project a reality: designating the route and acquiring all the necessary consents.
This is interesting because the one piece of good news that came out of the government’s review of the project’s business case was the recommendation that it ‘made good sense’ to designate the route – and the government would allow KiwiRail to be the agency that did the designation (with Auckland Council picking up the tab). Therefore, it’s not like Auckland Transport has to be the agency undertaking the designation – they have made the choice to do so. This is what the agenda item says on the issue: Given the government’s attitude towards this project so far, I quite like the idea of not having to deal with an agency like KiwiRail for now. I imagine that eventually the tracks may fall into KiwiRail’s ownership (although if Council pays for the full cost of the project, I don’t see why they wouldn’t retain ownership) post completion, but my understanding of the RMA is similar to that of the legal opinion obtained by Auckland Transport – if they have the financial responsibility for the project and are legally designated as a requiring authority then I can’t see why they wouldn’t be able to designate the route themselves.
I like the point that Auckland Transport and Auckland Council have got to now. There seems to be a realisation that while they need to continue to discuss funding with the government and come to some agreement on outstanding differences with the project’s business case should central government be requested to provide a contribution to the project’s cost, the work that’s needed to be done over the next year or two does not require central government input – and in fact the involvement of central government so far has done little but delay thing by about 6 months.
It’s hard to understand exactly what happened in the preparation of the project’s original business case, but it would seem that at some point it morphed from being a general overview of whether the project provided value for money to support the important first step of getting the route designated, to something that tried to achieve the impossible of getting a government that’s generally sceptical of rail to stump up with over a billion dollars in funding for a project that wasn’t their idea. Yet because this transition happened partway through the preparation of the business case, it wasn’t put together in the exact way that would have ticked all the government’s boxes. The subsequent review, while an interesting exercise in helping us realise exactly how myopic the Ministry of Transport is, really achieved little more than wasting six months that should have been spent finalising documentation to support the designation process.
Let’s hope that all the recommendations go through tomorrow and that Auckland Council and Auckland Transport can just get on with sorting out the background work that’s necessary to protect the project’s route and gain all the necessary consents. While they’re doing this, one also hopes that a greater level of analysis can be undertaken into the project’s benefits, that all alternatives can be more fully explored (even if the inevitable outcome is to highlight that there really are no decent alternatives) and that perhaps the Ministry of Transport might wake up and realise it’s not the 1960s anymore.
In short, we can talk funding later – we’ve got a lot to sort out before then. Finally, it would seem that Auckland Council and Auckland Transport understand this.