The Government's plans for light rail in Auckland continue to come under fire from parties it needs onside.
Last week, the Auditor-General voiced concerns about a run-off between two bidders for the $6 billion to $15b mega-project.
And today, the Herald can reveal frustration by Auckland Transport at being left in the dark about the bidders' proposals.
AT chief executive Shane Ellison said the city's transport agency had been unable to form any view about the merits or otherwise of the proposals before they went to the Cabinet for a decision.
His concerns were outlined in a letter to Ministry of Transport chief executive Peter Mersi in March this year obtained under the Official Information Act.
Ellison said light rail was an exciting yet complex task demanding collaborative working relationships, but this had been missing from the outset.
"Consequently, the assessment process to date has not had the full benefit of AT's perspective," he said.
Ellison called for AT's role to be clarified, saying it has responsibilities for planning and operating Auckland's transport system.
"It is important that the solution that is eventually delivered for Auckland is the right solution ... the key partners and the community must have confidence in a process that ensures that alternatives have been examined and an appropriate choice made," he said.
Ellison is not the first public figure in Auckland to criticise the Government's secrecy around light rail.
Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck has said there is no bigger project in Aucklanders' lifetime and yet uncertainty swirls around what lies ahead.
"We want to make sure this is not a Wellington decision for Auckland," she said.
Light rail has dogged the Government since Jacinda Ardern promised at the 2017 election to have the first leg from the CBD to Mt Roskill completed within four years and running to the airport within 10 years.
In 2018, the Government directed the NZ Transport Agency to lead the development of light rail from the Auckland CBD to the airport.
Shortly afterwards, the Government received an unsolicited bid from NZ Infra, a joint venture between the NZ Super Fund and a Canadian pension fund, to build the scheme.
In 2019, the Cabinet agreed to endorse the then Minister of Transport Phil Twyford's approach for the Ministry of Transport - a policy agency - to assess the rival bids and recommend the best proposal to Cabinet.
The ministry recommended the Super Fund's plan in 2020, but it was blocked by NZ First, whose leader Winston Peter said it would cost between $10b and $15b and a "decade of chaos".
Since then, the Government has asked the Ministry of Transport and Treasury to rework the proposals for Cabinet to consider early next year.
New Transport Minister Michael Wood has given an assurance that the next steps in the project will have "a good level of engagement with Auckland Transport, Auckland Council and communities across Auckland".
"Light rail is critical to unlock Auckland ... we'll have more to say and announcements early next year," Wood said.
Auckland Mayor and former Labour MP Phil Goff played down the AT letter, saying it was nine months old and did not reflect the current context of AT and the council having input into the new process since the proposals stalled.
It is understood AT is pleased to be engaged in the process, but has still not seen the proposals.
Last Thursday, Auditor-General John Ryan released the findings into concerns raised with his office about the decision to run a "parallel process" to select a delivery partner for the project.
He said ministers were advised there were risks in considering the NZ Infra proposal outside a market engagement process being run by NZTA.
The risks included potential non-compliance with the Government's procurement rules and adverse reaction from the market, Ryan said.
He found general agreement the parallel process involving NZTA and NZ Infra was "unusual" and encountered mixed messages between various Government departments around the procurement process.
National transport spokesman Michael Woodhouse said the Auditor-General had confirmed the Government's handling of light rail was ham-fisted, risky and probably in breach of procurement rules.
"Mr Ryan made it clear that the simultaneous consideration of an unsolicited proposal and a competitive procurement process risked creating an unfair playing field, with the effect of reducing the Government's negotiating ability.
"Light rail has become a calamity on the scale of KiwiBuild," he said.