National's $31 billion transport plan 'pricey but worth it' - Bishop

Chris Bishop.
Chris Bishop. Photo credit: RNZ

National's massive $31 billion plan to improve infrastructure in the upper half of the North Island is expensive but will "move the dial on congestion", says Infrastructure and Transport spokesperson Chris Bishop.

In her first big policy announcement today, new National leader Judith Collins delivered the opposition's infrastructure plan which promises to fix the transport network and congestion crisis in Auckland and surrounding regions.

Collins has also announced a National government would repeal the Resource Management Act completely, and replace it with two new pieces of law.

Bishop told Checkpoint it was a pipeline of projects. "Yes, it's pricey but we think it's worth it.

"Aucklanders have been waiting decades for a programme like this. It's a 20-year vision, I do want to stress that."

He said the programme of works would be paid for by making a significant change in the way the NZ Transport Agency paid for tis projects. Currently it's pay as you go - the NZTA takes money in from fuel tax and road user charges and then pays it out for what it wants to build.

This was not the way most businesses and households operated, Bishop said.

National would encourage NZTA to borrow on its own balance sheet. It has an asset base of $26 billion a year in state highways and revenue of $4b a year in fuel tax. Under National's plan they would borrow and pay back the debt over 20 to 30 years, like a household taking out a mortgage.

"That provides quite a significant chunk for the programme we've announced today."

For the first 10 years NZTA could borrow $1 billion a year, National would also use some of the government's Covid-19 response recovery fund, reprioritise some money from the National Land Transport Fund and use future capital allowances from the government.

"It's a very credible costed package of projects and one we think will really move the dial on congestion in Auckland and the upper North Island."

National will take the money the current government has allocated for the likes of light rail, which the party doesn't support, and put it back into state highways.

There would also be a massive investment in public transport with busways to the northwest and east of Auckland, and rail to Auckland Airport.

He said National is sceptical about Skypath which will provide a walking and cycling link over Auckland Harbour. It had started out as a cheap project but blown out to $360 million so he wants a cheaper redesign and not a "hefty price tag".

One of the most ambitious projects announced is four-lane expressways - including tunnels under the Brynderwyn and Kaimai mountain ranges - to connect Whangārei, Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga.

An additional harbour crossing has also been announced today.

National's plan to axe the RMA would not affect consultation with interested parties and consideration of the impact of any projects on the environment, Bishop said.

However, the current RMA process is broken with the amount of consultation required and the length of time to get projects going.

"The question is the process and the current Resource Management Act is broken."

He said what National was saying was backed up by the government which has recently listed 12 projects to be completed under its Fast-track Bill which was an indictment of the current RMA process.

With the second harbour crossing planned to start in 2028 and two tunnels through the ranges into the 2030s, "There's plenty of time between now and 2031, 2032 to work through all the logistics, the implications of all those projects," Bishop said.

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