The brakes have been slammed on runaway claims a deal is all but done regarding the Chinese government bankrolling and building a Northland road and rail link.

Northland Regional Council (NRC) has refuted Northland MP and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters' claims the council has a signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with China Rail.

Mr Peters said a deal was on the offing for the state-owned Chinese rail and road builder to fix part of State Highway 1 and tack on the Marsden Point link.

That was among other claims he made about "secret" talks concerning contracts with China between local government and local business.

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Council chief executive Malcolm Nicolson said a memorandum with China Rail was indeed in the pipeline, but was as yet incomplete because the council had not decided on its wording.

Any party could put in a tender for infrastructural projects, including China Rail, but NRC had no say in national roading contracts despite any MoU with a likely tenderer, he said.

Northland Regional Transport Committee chairman John Bain said a MoU was merely a "handshake" on paper; an introduction to each other's work and interests.

And New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) said the 22km, $500 million state highway upgrade south of Whangarei, which Mr Peters had alluded to, would be subject to funding approval through the National Land Transport Programme - and normal funding procedure.

Yesterday David Wilson, head of regional economic and development agency Northland Inc, said the priority was not a rail link at any cost.

Mr Wilson said there were many local avenues and discussions regarding business with China and other countries, some of which Northland Inc was involved with or facilitated.

He said Northland Inc had not been in formal discussions with NRC or transport agencies about China Rail's involvement in local roading or transport projects.

The claims and counterclaims about China have included Grow Northland Rail campaign director - and chairman of the Northland branch of the Maritime and Rail Union - Alby Barr saying: "Bring on the Chinese. We want them here."

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Mr Barr said that with the New Zealand and China free trade deal almost over the line, the time was right for the rail link and the rebuild of Northland's rail network.

Mr Peters said China was trying to connect New Zealand to the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) route it was building to access resources it wanted around the world.

He said Northport was in China's sights, and it was in China's interests to have the rail link in place.

"Be under no illusion, China's OBOR may suit their economic and international plans, but the real question is, does it suit ours?"