Auckland light rail: Michael Wood sets sights on 'linked-up' city network as National swipes at 'ridiculous' delays

Transport Minister Michael Wood has his sights set on a "linked up" transport network in Auckland with light rail as the spine to bring it all together in the future. 

But the Government is facing backlash from the Opposition, who say Labour has wasted almost four years on the project, with millions of dollars wasted in consultations. 

Wood announced on Wednesday a new six-month consultation process to get the light rail project moving, and says the Government will make decisions "at the end of the year". 

It comes after years of consultation on light rail from Auckland CBD to the airport led to the Government putting it on hold in June last year, after Labour's then-coalition partner NZ First refused to support it. 

The Government has tasked an 'establishment unit' with a six-month work programme, including working with Māori, engaging with Aucklanders, developing a business case, and providing cost estimates and financing options for light rail.  

"I think it's well-known that we had a challenge in the last Government in that we had partners in Government who fundamentally didn't agree on this project. That did make it very difficult to progress," Wood told reporters on Wednesday. 

"No one is keener to progress this as quickly as possible than I am, as a person who lives in Auckland and experiences the challenges of traffic every day that I'm here, who lives in the area, who represents the area - I want to see this project move forward.

"We're not starting with a blank piece of paper. There has been a significant amount of work done on this project already by Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and Waka Kotahi. We'll be drawing on their work and drawing on that expertise in those organisations."

Transport Minister Michael Wood.
Transport Minister Michael Wood. Photo credit: Newshub

Wood envisages a fully connected public transport network for Auckland. 

"One of the things I'll say about this project is it needs to be understood in terms of the broader ambition and objective, which is about developing a linked-up rapid transit system for Auckland," he said. 

"So yes, it connects the city centre and the airport, but it's not just about a point-to-point journey between those two points. It's about connecting into the rest of the network and it's about being a spine for the development of a broader rapid transit network - thinking about the north-west, thinking about the North Shore.

"We're clearly saying to Aucklanders this is not an isolated project. It's about linking up the public transport network for Aucklanders to be able to move around the city freely."

National's transport spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says the Government has wasted time and millions of dollars. 

"Today's announcement was ridiculous," he said. "After four years there is still no business case. No funding. No route. No idea of who will build the project or how they will build the project. No consents. No engagement. Nothing."

National's transport spokesperson Michael Woodhouse.
National's transport spokesperson Michael Woodhouse. Photo credit: File

Woodhouse says Aucklanders deserve a fuel tax refund for the lack of progress.

"The Government has wasted millions of dollars and four years while Aucklanders have been taxed an extra 10 cents at the petrol pump to pay for the project," he said, referring to the Auckland regional fuel tax

Wood cannot say at this point how much light rail cost, but he said to expect a multibillion-dollar project, due to its size and significance. It already has $1.8 billion allocated to it. 

He confirmed the Government is not looking at a public-private partnership. 

"What the Government said at the point we ended the twin-track process in July last year is that we'll proceed with this process as a public service delivery model, so we won't be looking to a process similar to what we had last time with a public-private partnership."

Wood said businesses on Dominion Rd could get compensation when construction begins. 

"I'm very conscious of that business disruption issue... I'm of the view that we do have to deal with that issue as part of the indicative business case. These are significant projects, they potentially create disruption over a prolonged period of time," he said. 

"While we don't want to set a precedent where every time there's a little bit of road works there's compensation payments, I want to seriously look at that and it's something I'll be asking the establishment unit to consider and provide advice on."