Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

$250m fast-track offer derailed

Mayor's proposal to kick-start billion-dollar City Rail Link four years early fails to impress Prime Minister.

Mayor Len Brown is keen to get the City Rail Link under way, complete with electric trains. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Mayor Len Brown is keen to get the City Rail Link under way, complete with electric trains. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Prime Minister John Key has rebuffed a $250 million offer from Auckland Mayor Len Brown to kick-start the $2.86 billion City Rail Link in 2016, saying the project is on track to begin construction in 2020.

The two leaders met in Auckland last week where Mr Key told the mayor the Government was still committed to the rail project, but its preferred timetable was to start in 2020 with a review in 2017 to see if that date could be brought forward.

Mr Brown had written to Mr Key saying his council would pay for an early "works programme" to get the project started at Britomart and under much of Albert St, partly driven by Precinct Properties wanting to start rebuilding the Downtown Shopping Centre next year. The offer included $250 million of the city's money for work under the Downtown centre and up Albert St and a Government commitment to pay for half of the project from 2020.

Mr Key, who last year said the project could start earlier if Auckland could meet tough rail patronage and employment growth targets, said officials would look at Mr Brown's offer "but at this point really, nothing has changed".

The project, he said, involved billions of ratepayer and taxpayer dollars and it made no sense to bring that spending forward unless it was warranted. Private sector investment also was an issue to consider, he said.

Councillor and Auckland Transport board member Mike Lee said kick-starting the rail link had the official support of the transport body and made perfect sense given Precinct Properties' desire to develop the Downtown Centre to include foundation work for a "cut and cover" section of two railway tunnels into and out of Britomart.

Mr Brown, who made an election promise to start the rail link in 2016, has yet to come up with a funding package for Aucklanders to pay half the $2.86 billion cost.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown.
Auckland Mayor Len Brown.

Yesterday, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee reiterated the Government's opposition to tolls on existing roads and a regional fuel tax to pay for the rail link.

Councillor Cameron Brewer said in June last year Mr Brown agreed to a joint plan with the Government, but was now trying to rewrite the terms of engagement.

"He can't show dramatic growth in CBD employment numbers nor in rail patronage, nor has he convinced Aucklanders of a funding plan. The reality is Len Brown is completely persona non grata this election year."

City falling short of Key's targets

Auckland is falling short of rail and employment growth targets set by Prime Minister John Key last year to make an early start on the rail link, says the Ministry of Transport.

Mr Key said the Government would consider an early start if city centre employment increased by 25 per cent and rail patronage hit 20 million trips well before 2020.

Yesterday, the ministry published the first six-monthly report of these targets showing employment numbers have risen 2.1 per cent, or 2030 employees.

The report said there were 10.3 million rail trips in the year to the end of last October, compared with 10.2 million trips the previous year.

The thresholds were "very unlikely to be met before 2020".

Electric trains from this year would boost patronage but it would be about 2024 before it hit 20 million.

- NZ Herald

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