Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern defends $51 million spent on cancelled Auckland cycle bridge

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is standing by the decision to spend $51 million on a cancelled cycle bridge because the Government is "willing to make bold infrastructure decisions". 

The Government announced plans in June last year for a $785 million walking and cycling bridge that would be built parallel to Auckland's Harbour Bridge across the Waitemata.

The cycle bridge was touted as a solution to complaints from cyclists about there being no way for them to cross the Waitematā Harbour. But a Newshub-Reid Research poll found 81.7 percent of voters opposed it.

After months of pushback, the Government then confirmed in October that the project had been scrapped, despite already spending $51 million on designs, consultants and engineering plan fees.

National leader Christopher Luxon in Parliament on Wednesday challenged Ardern on whether the $51 million spent on the cancelled bike bridge delivered a "good outcome" for taxpayers.

"This is where we have been focussed on making sure that we are seeing a mode shift in New Zealand," Ardern said in response. 

"Here we have an opportunity to link up significant transport projects including rail to the airport with the third harbour crossing which I recall the member's party used to support. That was part of the shift that we've made in our decision-making. 

"On this side of the House, we're willing to make bold infrastructure decisions. On that side, we see the continued delay and that is the reason we inherited such a lack of investment in New Zealand's infrastructure."

The Government announced plans in June 2021 for a $785 million walking and cycling bridge that would be built parallel to Auckland's Harbour Bridge across the Waitemata.
The Government announced plans in June 2021 for a $785 million walking and cycling bridge that would be built parallel to Auckland's Harbour Bridge across the Waitemata. Photo credit: File

Luxon asked Ardern if she was aware the bridge was no longer going ahead before $51 million had been spent on it.

"If I recall, the previous MP for Central Auckland, one Nikki Kaye, was not the only person who supported the link across the Harbour Bridge. In fact, there were other National Party MPs who did as well," Ardern said. 

"The fact is, unfortunately, that proposal was no longer possible for structural reasons. When we heard of that information, we made sure that we had alternative investment plans so that we could continue the much-needed mode shift that Aucklanders are seeking."

Ardern defended the Government's transport record by highlighting the Government's plans for a $14 billion light rail project that will integrate with current train and bus hubs and the City Rail Link stations and connections. 

However, light rail has come under similar spending criticism to the cycle bridge. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent on it, despite there being no shovels in the ground to build it. 

The Government also announced plans for an additional Waitematā Harbour crossing, with options on the mammoth task to be considered this year and decisions brought forward to 2023. 

"This is part of an integrated approach to significant transport plans in Auckland. Auckland has suffered the consequences of a lack of investment in major infrastructure projects. We suffer the consequences of impacts on productivity," Ardern said. 

"On the one hand, the National Party purports to support the Zero Carbon legislation, and yet have voted against almost every single action that has been taken to make sure that we do that. 

"Unless we invest in this transition, New Zealanders will bear the brunt of future energy shocks, New Zealand will bear the brunt of severe weather events, primary producers will bear the brunt as exporters. This is not an option - we must move."

With Auckland's population projected to reach 2 million in the early 2030s, and transport emissions up 16.6 percent from 2005, environmentalists agree that now is the time to encourage alternative transport options

"New Zealand has done quite poorly in controlling transport emissions, in particular," Dr Lo, a senior lecturer in climate change at Victoria University in Wellington, told Newshub.

There are some encouraging signs. More electric vehicles (EVs) were registered in New Zealand in the six months following the introduction of the Government's Clean Car Discount rebate scheme last year than in 2017, 2018, 2019, or 2020.

It led to a 15 percent reduction in emissions from new imported vehicles and a more than tripling of the number of new EVs being sold each month.

Rebates of up to $8625 for imported EVs are funded by charging the purchase of high-emitting vehicles up to $5175. Vehicles with moderate emissions get neither a rebate nor a charge.

Newshub revealed this week that NZ Transport Agency-Waka Kotahi is revisiting the idea of allocating lanes to cyclists in the future.