Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Auditor General warns of Auckland rail loop risks

Photo / Thinkstock.
Photo / Thinkstock.

The Auditor-General is cautioning Aucklanders about the $2.86 billion inner-city rail loop, saying it will need to be reviewed if the Government does not support it.

In a rare move, the Auditor-General has included a statement in Mayor Len Brown's first 10-year budget about the risk associated with the rail project.

"The main risks to the city rail loop project are that central Government will not agree to provide direct funding to enable the council to access alternative funding sources," the statement says.

Speaking on behalf of Auditor-General Lyn Provost, audit director Francis Caetano told the council that if the council could not get Government support it would have to review the project as part of the next long-term budget in 2015.

Mr Brown has assumed the Government will fund half the $2.86 billion project in the 10-year budget, which yesterday received a "fit for purpose" tick by the Auditor-General and final sign-off by the council.

But the Government has been extremely sceptical about the city rail loop and has offered no funding - although it has agreed to the council protecting the route for the 3.5km loop from Britomart to join the western rail line at Mt Eden.

Last night, an upbeat Mr Brown said the council had done its part by including in the 10-year budget of the rail loop project, which could be operating by 2020 if the Government came on board.

On Wednesday, the mayor released figures from a Research New Zealand survey showing 63 per cent support for the rail loop and 29 per cent opposition. The other 8 per cent did not know or care.

Mr Brown's best hope for political support - he also needs central Government backing to introduce tolls to pay the council's share - would appear to be a change of Government. Both Labour and the Greens support the project.

In the meantime, Mr Brown is working on convincing National MPs to back the project "because Auckland desperately needs a modern public transport system".

Mr Brown described the passing of his first 10-year budget as a historic moment for Auckland. It included several large projects, such as the city rail loop and electric trains, and community projects such as 11 new or refurbished libraries and $688 million for parks and sporting facilities.

Councillor Ann Hartley said the budget was a great success of Auckland coming together in a very short time, while Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse said it was a budget for "all of Auckland".

But it has not pleased everyone, including the Manurewa Local Board, which had $1.75 million taken out of its budget in a financial mix-up.

A temporary solution has not pleased board chairman Daniel Newman, who slammed the "mothership mentality" between the governing body and local boards.

Right-leaning councillors criticised the increase in debt from $2.9 billion to $8.7 billion over the next 10 years.

They also blamed Mr Brown for a Government-imposed single rating system for the Super City that would see many ratepayers facing increasesof 10 per cent over the next three years.

CITY BUDGET

* $58 billion running and building the Super City over 10 years

* $2.86 billion rail loop biggest item

* 3.6 per cent overall rates increase in the coming year

* 10 per cent cap on individual rates rises from move to a single rating system

- NZ Herald

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