The capital’s beleaguered $7.4 billion transport plan Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) will be put out of its misery to varying degrees under either a Labour or National-led government.
Greater Wellington Regional Council chairman Daran Ponter said it has been a hell of a ride.
“We’re there at the invitation of the Government. If the Government is now saying that invitation is wearing a bit thin and we would prefer to go it alone, I have to say: ’Thank God’.”
Ponter is not up for defending LGWM any longer and said if it is truly now a government programme, ministers need to stand up for it and drive it.
LGWM is a three-way partnership between Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and the Government, the regional council, and the Wellington City Council.
It was born out of the divisive Basin Reserve flyover proposal and was meant to resolve the interplay between the partners and bring them together.
But it has failed to switch gears fast enough and has lost public confidence.
It has got so bad that National has promised to kill LGWM if it gets into government. Instead, the party will deliver the second Mt Victoria tunnel and Basin Reserve improvements as fully funded state highway projects.
The Government has also clearly picked up on the frustration at LGWM’s lack of progress.
Transport Minister David Parker has come out saying the Government will now be “taking the lead” on LGWM’s state highway projects (the same ones National is promising to get on and build).
Parker said these projects are mainly the responsibility of the Government in terms of funding.
“This Government is providing certainty that funding is committed to deliver the project, and Waka Kotahi will look at ways to accelerate the works.”
The second tunnel and Basin Reserve improvements have now been identified by the Government as one of 14 key strategic routes for Waka Kotahi to consider as it develops its next 10-year National Land Transport Plan.
Mass rapid transit from the central city to Island Bay, the centrepiece of LGWM, has also been identified as one of these “critical nation-building” priorities.
Treasury and Ministry of Transport officials have been working away in the background on a national approach to funding and financing mass rapid transit but the details of this are yet to be revealed.
These three projects will do the heavy lifting to create the transformation LGWM keeps banging on about.
Asked whether LGWM will continue to exist considering this “taking the lead”, Parker said it was a matter for consideration in due course.
This is hardly a vote of confidence in the transport project as we know it.
Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau was also asked whether LGWM has a future or if the partners needed to find a new way of working together.
Whanau said they were starting to shift from the design and consultation phase to construction and delivery.
“So I think it is timely that we take a look at the governance arrangements and ensure they are fit for purpose.”
Whanau is referring to the construction and delivery phase for projects like removing private vehicles from the Golden Mile. A detailed business case for LGWM’s biggest plans isn’t expected back until next year, with construction last estimated to start in 2027.
Over at the regional council, Ponter was not as diplomatic.
Asked whether LGWM was redundant, he said it was.
“The Government is signalling both in terms of what they have said, but also the money that they now are suggesting that they’re going to put more directly behind those three initiatives, that they’re looking to step up to the plate,” Ponter said.
“And if they’re willing to do that, then, certainly the Greater Wellington Regional Council can step back.”
But he stressed the three partners would still need to work together in some shape or form because the LGWM projects will plough through the city and intersect with local roads and public transport.
Ponter thinks LGWM will be reinvented in some way and the branding may go entirely, but he is also concerned about not throwing the baby out with the bathwater and going back to square one, as happened with the Basin Reserve flyover.
These comments from Ponter are the most frank reflections of any LGWM partner to date.
He clearly views the Government’s latest comments as a significant step-change in the approach to LGWM and feels that allows him to speak more freely.
So while it is still a bit unclear exactly what the transport project’s future is, it certainly won’t look like it does now.
LGWM will be put out of its misery.
• Senior Wellington journalist Georgina Campbell’s fortnightly column looks closely at issues in the capital.