After a few months of relative silence, discussion about the City Rail Link has been sparked again by a handful of articles.
The most interesting item is that the Mayor has had PWC look into the criteria set by the government to enable a start earlier than the government’s suggestion of 2020 after what would effectively be another review in 2017. I am yet to see the actual report and that will hopefully be made public later this week however Radio NZ have reported on it.
A report for the Auckland Council by the consultant firm PWC says the Government should drop inappropriate targets for rail patronage and downtown employment, and back an early start to the $2.8 billion project if growth trends are on track.
The Government has said a start earlier than 2020 could happen only if rail patronage and city centre employment hit pre-determined targets. Mr Brown wants a start to the City Rail Link (CRL) late next year or in 2016.
The report says the Government based its targets on the City Centre Future Access Study, which had a much narrower scope than a full assessment of the viability of the CRL.
Mr Brown argues that new central city property developments unveiled along the rail tunnel route underline the need for a start earlier than agreed by the Government in July last year.
He told a transport conference on Monday the rail link will be needed before the patronage and employment targets can be met, and the Government should be more flexible.
“If we are on trend and on track, then why wait ’til 2021 to confirm that in fact there is a significant lift in public transport and train usage in our city. Why not just clear the decks and jump in behind the private sector with the type of investment they are making around the precinct properties.”
There seems to be a couple of issues at play. The government are saying that they don’t think the numbers stack up till closer to 2030 yet PWC seem to be saying that the numbers the government are using can only be reached if the CRL is already in place. I think it’s certainly possible – albeit it challenging – for us to reach the 20 million target but I think it’s extremely unlikely we will meet the employment one. The key reason for this is that there simply isn’t enough office space set to come on stream in the next few years to enable that employment growth. There are also other factors at play changing the market, for example there’s an increasing trend to converting some older offices to apartments.
Of course Gerry Brownlee has already dismissed the report.
Perhaps the project that will deliver the biggest single increase in office space also happens to be a project tied intimately to the CRL. Precinct Properties plan for the Downtown Shopping Mall involves building a large tower on the site with the CRL passing underneath it. Precinct are looking to start next year and that is one thing that will only add to the pressure to get on with at least the first section of the tunnel and at least getting it from Britomart, under the Customs St/Albert St intersection and to some point up Albert St. One of the benefits of Precinct’s plan is it no longer requires Auckland Transport to purchase the entire property for what would have likely been $70 million+. One reason that’s important is that while the purchase of the land is included in the project costs, the sale after the project has been completed isn’t subtracted in the economic criteria.
Other properties are being purchased though and the Herald reports that so far AT have spent $35 million on buying up properties along the route.
Properties worth $35 million have been bought to secure the route for Auckland’s proposed $2.86 billion City Rail Link.
Although it would not list them, Auckland Transport told the Herald it had bought 27 of 73 above-ground properties it needs to create entranceways to proposed underground stations and train lines along the 3.4km route from Britomart to Mt Eden. It also needs land for its major construction yard at Eden Terrace.
The Auckland Council-owned authority said the most expensive property it had bought was an empty site near Mt Eden Prison for just over $6 million.
It was bought “as an advance agreement with the final amount to be determined by the Land Valuation Tribunal”. The tribunal, under the Ministry of Justice, hears cases where buyers and sellers can’t agree on prices and terms.
I’m not sure how these things normally go but 27 properties seems like a decent number so far. Of course whenever we have the CRL come up we also get at least one councillor make a stupid comment and today was no exception with the prize going to Dick Quax.
Auckland councillor Dick Quax said it was wrong that properties were being bought before funding from the Government had been secured.
“We’re boxing ahead and we don’t have any money for it. It’s a silly thing to do,” he said.
In my view it would be sillier not purchase the properties as land values have continued to rise and by the time the government finally accepts the project and will likely to keep doing so. In fact even the government back when they were still opposing the project said it was worthwhile securing the route which means designating it and buying properties. It’s quite head in the sand stuff from Quax. It’s about as almost as silly as this tweet from Tau Henare yesterday suggesting that the CRL doesn’t do anything for West Auckland.
— West Side Tory (@tauhenare) May 25, 2014
The last piece yesterday was this one on the council’s next long term plan (LTP).
Planning is under way to slash $2.8 billion of new spending at Auckland Council to control soaring debt and rates while pushing ahead with the $2.86 billion City Rail Link.
The fiscal shake-up will come at a cost to core council services, such as new libraries, swimming pools and playing fields, which face being pushed back or canned altogether.
An early start to electrification of rail to Pukekohe now appears highly unlikely and bus and ferry improvements could take a back seat to the rail link.
The Herald has obtained a copy of a confidential briefing by council officers to councillors, which outlines four scenarios for next year’s 10-year budget review.
The first two are based on updating the first 10-year budget and the second two are based on locking in rates at 3.5 per cent and 2.5 per cent over the next decade by cutting capital spending by $2 billion and $2.8 billion respectively.
Orsman seems to be trying to suggest that the CRL is solely responsible for the cuts to other areas of council spending however it has to be remembered that the council is only going to be covering about half of the costs of the project with the other half coming from the government. What the rest of the article does highlight is that the council are getting to a point where they are going to need to make some tough decisions on what projects they actually build. Carrying on trying to do everything simply isn’t possible so the council will need to prioritise what they do. This is something we’ve been saying for some time and is a basis to many of the things we advocate for including the CFN and walking and cycling.
One last comment from someone who spoke to Bill English on the subject recently
I was just at a function with Bill English. I had a bit of a chat to him in private about the CRL. His views on it:
“It will happen. Its just a matter of when”
“There is a bit of back and forth between the government and the Auckland council on who is going to pay what portion. Our argument is that the public as users should pay a little more, and the public through government taxes should pay a little less.”
“There are a number of milestones for starting the project that the council realise are just never going to be able to be met. So we are sitting down with them to work out a more reasonable structure for the whole project”
“Whether its 2016, 2017, or 2022, it’ll happen.”
He then asked me if i wanted it to go ahead. My reply:
“Absolutely. My vote this election will be decided based on it”
He didn’t seem to impressed and thats where we left our conversation