Taxpayers are forking out $1.2 million a week to keep the wheels turning on the Government’s $14.6 billion light rail project in Auckland.
Auckland Light Rail (ALR) is paying about $920,000 a week to two engineering companies to plan and design the central city-to-airport light rail project and a further $310,000 to its own contractors and consultants.
The figures came from Transport Minister Michael Wood in response to a written Parliamentary question from National’s transport spokesman Simeon Brown.
The Government has already spent $50m with about 200 different firms, including five big law firms and competing consultancies like PwC, EY and KPMG on Auckland’s light rail system in the five years since 2017.
Brown has described the $50m and weekly spend figures as a “gravy train” on a project that has gone nowhere, despite a promise from former Labour leader Jacinda Ardern to have the first stage, running from Wynyard Quarter to Mt Roskill, built by now.
“Instead of delivering light rail, Labour is now spending over $1.2m a week of taxpayers’ money on consultants working on more reports trying to justify a project which could cost up to $30b [twice the official estimate], which the Treasury has highlighted as a risk of further cost increases,” Brown said.
Despite the difficulties and huge blowout in cost for the airport route, from $3.7b in 2018 to the latest estimate of $14.6b, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins announced two weeks ago that the Government was expanding the Auckland light rail system to Takapuna as part of a new harbour crossing, with work starting by 2029.
ALR chief executive Tommy Parker defended the spending on light rail, saying it established an Alliance of Aurecon and Arup in October last year for the planning and design phase of the 24km light rail line, which will be tunnelled as far as Mt Roskill before travelling overland to Onehunga, Māngere and the airport.
There was an initial contract of $16m and a further $48.5m to complete its work by mid-2023. Work includes preparing geotechnical drilling ground conditions, assessing options for the route and station locations, urban design, engagement with the public and mana whenua, preparing a notice of requirement and assessing funding options, Parker said.
He said this would allow ALR to take the next step of protecting the route and obtaining resource consent to build light rail and to operate and maintain it in the future.
“Once this milestone is reached, a further agreement will be negotiated to cover the next elements of work to finalise the business case and progress the project towards construction,” Parker said.
Writing in the Herald’s Project Auckland supplement this week, Parker said despite the soggy summer, the pace of work has been phenomenal.
“We are building a world-class light rail system - one that will add more strength and resilience to Auckland’s wider transport network, reduce congestion on streets and make the city environmentally cleaner, and be a catalyst for sustainable, well-planned population growth and affordable housing,” he said.
Brown said the money being spent on consultants for light rail should be used to help rebuild the roads washed away by Cyclone Gabrielle.
“National will scrap Labour’s $30b light rail ghost project if elected in October,” he said.
Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown is sceptical about light rail, and wants to wait to see what impact the $5.5b City Rail Link will have on the city’s transport network before forging ahead with the new mode.
The Herald approached the Transport Minister.