Jacinda Ardern won't rule out private investment to help build Auckland light rail

She says it's too soon to predict how much the project will cost.
She says it's too soon to predict how much the project will cost. Photo credit: Getty

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will not rule out private investment or council funding to help build Auckland light rail.

The project has gone back to the drawing board, with Transport Minister Michael Wood yesterday announcing a working group and giving it six months to come up with a new plan on what it will look like, where it will be, and how much it might cost.

Light rail for the city was Labour's flagship promise in 2017, but it came to a halt after New Zealand First refused to support it.

Ardern said Auckland businesses and public transport advocates are in favour of a fresh start.

She said organisations such as the Automobile Association, the Employers and Manufacturers Association and Greater Auckland have told her that it is important to get back around the table on the issue.

"We need a process where people are able to input their views and we haven't had that to date - and look we hear that and we accept it - we still think we can move at reasonable pace."

Ardern said the work that has gone into the project to date is not all lost and this is evident in the fact the government has given the working group a shortened timeframe of six months to come up with a new plan.

She said New Zealand has not seen a project of this scale.

"That is why we do want to make sure we get this right, we do want to lean on those who have experience delivering projects of this nature - that will be a big focus for us as we go through this."

Ardern said it is too soon to say how much the project will cost.

She said the project has been too narrowly defined as a project that is just about rail to the airport.

"That totally limits the scale of what this needs to deliver, this is a chance to open up transport routes across Auckland, it needs to be fully integrated."

Ardern said for transport projects of scale in the past the government has worked collaboratively with organisations such as the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP).

Asked whether the entire project would be funded by central government Ardern replied: "That I'm not giving you a response to right now."

She said how the project will be delivered is part of what will be looked at over the next six months.

"We have already had the involvement through the original two track process that we went through in the last term of office, that involved an outside entity in the proposal."

Govt needs to ask what issue it's trying to solve - public transport advocate

A public transport advocate says Auckland needs more than light rail to ease congestion and provide links to the international airport.

The Campaign for Better Transport spokesperson Jon Reeves said the business case needs to be clear before a solution is decided on.

Reeves said Labour has squandered four years on the project during its last term through not having a business case and failing to get the support of their coalition partners.

"I think the government needs to ask what is the problem they're trying to solve. Is it congestion on Dominion Road? Is it connectivity with Māngere and the international airport, large generators of transport - is it both?

"Because maybe one solution is not the right answer for both those issues."

Reeves said light rail may solve the Dominion Road issue but the existing rail network could be used to improve access to Māngere and the international airport.

Simon Wilson, who is a senior writer for the Herald and an Auckland commentator, said the government is doing the right thing in seeking to get public engagement in the project.

He said the government's announcement yesterday recognises that there's not general public understanding of and support for what is an enormously expensive project.

The announcement acknowledges that the government has to go through a process to get public engagement before working out the best way forward for Auckland's light rail network, Wilson said.