Aucklanders need more clarity and input into the Government's light rail project before it goes off the rails, says a business leader.
Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck said there is no bigger project in Aucklanders' lifetime and yet uncertainty swirls around what lies ahead.
"For such a complex, expensive and transformative project we need to ensure that the best bid selected by central government has a clear understanding of Auckland's needs.
"We want to make sure this is not a Wellington decision for Auckland," she said.
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Light rail is becoming an increasingly difficult problem for the Government with no business case, no firm costings and confusing messages about what the city to airport line is for - fast transport to the airport, relieving bus congestion in the city or a catalyst for intensification.
The Ministry of Transport is currently assessing two very different proposals, one from NZ Infra, a joint venture between the New Zealand Super Fund and Canada's CDPQ Infra group, and one from NZTA, for the Government to make a decision on early next year.
The NZ Infra bid is believed to include tunnelling under Queen St and elevated sections down Dominion Rd. NZ Infra has also expressed an interest in building light rail to the West.
The NZTA bid is focused on building light rail from the city to the airport - renamed city to Mangere to focus on urban redevelopment.
The Government has set aside $1.8 billion as seed funding for light rail, but not spelt out how the full cost will be funded and financed. The last cost for light rail to the airport was $3.7b in May last year. The NZ Infra bid is believed to be considerably more than this figure.
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Beck said rapid transit is needed to ease congestion and support the city's growth.
"However, there is no clarity or transparency about the requirements of the light rail project or what the next steps will be after a preferred bidder has been chosen.
"This uncertainty presents a risk for many businesses and others who will potentially be severely impacted," she said.
Beck, who campaigned for compensation to small businesses affected by long delays on the $4.4b City Rail Link, said the Government needs to learn the lessons from the CRL or the negative impacts will be enormous.
Imagine, she said, Queen St being dug up for light rail at the same time Albert St is being dug up for the City Rail Link.
"Surely that will not be the case, but we don't know. At the moment there is a void and we have to trust the process."
Beck said Auckland Council needs to be actively involved in the decision on the preferred bid and the route of the project.
In a short statement, Transport Minister Phil Twyford said Aucklanders will have a say on various aspects of light rail once the Ministry of Transport completes its process.
"Our Government wants to build a modern and sustainable rapid transit system for Auckland which will be well used and all Aucklanders will be proud of," he said.
The Ministry of Transport said in a statement it is too early for the public to be involved in the process while it determines who will be the preferred partner.
During the process, key stakeholders including Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, KiwiRail and several government departments like Treasury and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development are involved. Experts are also being consulted before cabinet makes a decision, the statement said.
"The basis the two proposals are being evaluated on is commercially sensitive so cannot be released publicly. Indicative costs, the funding and financing model and estimated timeframe will be set out by both NZTA and NZ Infra in their proposals."
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said the Government, as funder, will decide the deliver partner for light rail and the mechanism for funding.
"Auckland's light rail needs to work for our communities and help solve the congestion we are facing as a city. All aspects of the light rail will be decided in consultation with Auckland Council and Auckland Transport including design, route and the nature of the light rail," he said.