Certainty is the word I’d use to describe the announcement by John Key yesterday that the government would support for the City Rail Link main works beginning in 2018. While it was widely expected it was an announcement that was both very low on specific details but also contained a lot of information.
As readers may remember, the government had long opposed the CRL with former transport ministers at the time Steven Joyce and Gerry Brownlee seemingly taking great pleasure in dismissing reports at that time. That all changed in 2013 where in a similar speech Key announced the government would accept the CRL from 2020 onwards but entertained the idea of an earlier start/finish time if patronage doubled to 20 million earlier than expected and CBD employment grew by 25%.
While the government hasn’t put in place targets for any other project before (or after), having one for patronage isn’t too bad an idea but we were always very critical of the employment growth one for a number of reasons. In the end the employment target was irrelevant in the decision.
CBD employment levels are still some way from the 25 per cent growth threshold.
But strong growth in rail patronage since 2013 means it will reach the 20 million annual trip threshold well before 2020.
It’s become clear that we need to provide certainty for other planned CBD developments affected by the Rail Link.
This means we see merit in starting the project sooner.
As we posted the other day, patronage on the rail network reached 15.4 million to the end of December, a 22.9% increase on the year before. The scale of the growth and that it has been sustained at around that level for a year are impressive and highlight just how quickly things can change. It’s meant that at current rates we would hit the CRL target up to three years early. Perhaps the more interesting aspect is the impact the business community have had on getting an earlier start date. There is a huge amount of development planned along the CRL route and much of it is premised on CRL happening. Providing a commitment which then allows the private sector to get on with investing billions makes a lot of sense.
In quite a shrewd move Key actually only confirmed the government share would arrive after 2020 which is in line with his original time frame from back in 2013 but just by having that commitment now means that the council can use it’s share to start in 2018.
So I can today confirm the Government will work with the Council to bring forward the business plan and formalise our funding commitment from 2020.
The Council has indicated this would allow construction of the Rail Link’s main works to start in 2018 – at least two years earlier than currently envisaged.
It would also allow the council to get on with negotiating contracts and providing certainty for investors in other important Auckland CBD projects.
By providing the commitment he has it’s likely he’s saved more than just the two-year gap. The big reason for this is it means that those at AT working on the project can get on with the tender process and engage with potential suppliers knowing that will definitely be there from 2018. That can allow them to optimise the built, possibly reduce the amount of time the main works will take and definitely reduce the overall amount of disruption the city will experience from the construction. It of course also means we start getting the transport and economic benefits sooner.
One quite interesting statement about the project was that the council and government need to sit down and work out just who will own and operate the infrastructure. I can’t imagine the council/AT paying for half of the project and then being keen on say Kiwirail owning it.
On the funding, Key confirmed in this interview with Duncan Garner that the money would come from the government’s consolidated account and not the National Land Transport Fund once again highlighting the issue that rail infrastructure is funded differently to other land transport. This is something that really needs to be changed. Also of note in that interview was him being quite positive about development around the rail network which is encouraging.
It remains to be seen how the council will pay for its share. Funding for it was already included in the Long Term Plan agreed last year for 2018 onwards however Len was also talking yesterday again about using road tolls to raise funding for it. Interestingly the government also appear to have softened their stance on this. Previously they’ve outright refused to even consider it but Key is now saying they will if there is a good case for it.
Phil Goff has called for the project to be treated like one of National Significance and be fully funded by the government.
The council yesterday released this short video of the change that that Albert St and the surrounding area is about to go though
Congratulations and thanks to Len Brown for is effort over the last 5 or so years in turning this project into a reality. At times it’s looked like it may never happen but the persistency has paid off and Auckland will be considerably better for it. There are a lot of others that need to be congratulated too and many of whom we may never know just how important of a role they played
Following on from Key’s announcement on the CRL there have been a few of frankly bizarre press releases from some politicians that are worth mentioning. Top of the list is the response from David Seymour who has used the announcement to call for more money to be spent on schools in his electorate and this statement. Odd as the government have already shown they are prepared to fund greater investment in schools to deal with changing roll sizes – such as this at the beginning of December.
“The reality is that we have a train looking for passengers, rather than the other way around. That’s why the Rail Link requires heavy intensification around Mt Eden Station, among others, to be viable.
“The Council has not considered the implications of changing land use on education in the area, where schools are already bursting at the seams. The Mt Eden Station development, for instance, will bring hundreds of new residences into already-full school zones.
Yes a train looking for passengers, I guess that’s why they’re often so full that people can’t get on. I haven’t checked but I’m also fairly confident the Ministry of Education would have submitted on the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan currently before an independent hearings panel.
In a separate release he also suggests the government should have blackmailed the council by withholding infrastructure funding until they allowed unfettered sprawl subsidised by existing ratepayers.
The Government has let Auckland Council off the hook, gaining no concessions on land supply or rate rises, according to ACT Leader David Seymour.
“Writing a big cheque was the time to bring Auckland Council to the table,” says Mr Seymour, “but instead the Council got away with the money and the bag.”
“The Government could have set up ongoing incentives for the council to provide infrastructure. Instead, with no sign that the council will focus on core services, the largesse of the Len Brown era will continue.
Yesterday’s news is also not good for those that have spent their careers first telling us the project wasn’t needed and after being surprised at the government’s support in 2013, that the council shouldn’t do anything till that time. Chief among those was Cameron Brewer who used the news as an opportunity primarily to take a swipe at mayoral candidate Phil Goff.