Transport Minister Michael Wood hits out at National's Simeon Brown amid transport priorities questions

There's been a testy exchange between the Transport Minister and a National MP at a Select Committee on Thursday.

Simeon Brown, National's transport spokesperson, was questioning Transport Minister Michael Wood over whether it was the Government's intention to use road maintenance funding to build cycleways and if that could lead to less money for keeping our roads up to scratch.

The minister said any suggestion the Government might cut back on road maintenance was "just political mischief making". Later, when Wood said Brown was misinterpreting his remarks, the National MP jumped in.

But the minister hit back: "Stop interrupting me".

The exchange stemmed from a proposal found in the indicative priorities presented by Wood last year for an upcoming transport plan. 

It suggested that when a space dedicated to private vehicles, like car parks, needed renewal or maintenance, it could be replaced with "more bus lanes, separated bike/scooter lanes, and walking improvements". 

But Wood said on Monday that the priorities would need to change in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle, which has caused significant damage to about 400km of the North Island's roading network. A new "emergency-style" plan is now being worked on.

The original indicative priorities - which are now being changed - were to inform the upcoming Government Policy Statement (GPS) on Land Transport. 

Brown began his questioning at the Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee on Thursday by asking whether it was still Wood's intention "to use road maintenance funding to build cycle ways".

Wood said councils and communities "have consistently said to government that we should look to get better value from our spend".

"We spend around 40 percent of the NLTF [National Land Transport Fund] on maintenance. If I can give an example, if we are going to maintain a stretch of road but we know it is a stretch of road that is dangerous and needs safety improvements, it probably makes sense that at the same time as we are maintaining we consider installing safety infrastructure."

Wood said no decisions have been made and different funding streams could be brought together to deliver programmes. 

He said spending on walking and cycle infrastructure is dwarfed by that for maintenance and new road funding. 

Later in the session, Labour's Nelson MP Rachel Boyack asked if, when developing new transport networks alongside housing developments, officials would look at both the maintenance of the road and ensuring there is a walkway for residents. 

Wood said that work is "increasingly happening as we provide support for local councils to provide new infrastructure for housing developments"

"But we need to make sure that as we're rolling out that maintenance spend that we are supporting it as well."

Brown suggested Wood was speaking as if his transport priorities weren't changing.

"Did you not receive the memo that those plans were no longer going to be going forward?"

As Wood went to say Brown was misinterpreting him, Brown suggested Wood hadn't got such a memo.

"Stop interrupting me and saying that I am saying things that I haven't said," Wood then said.

"The member is completely misinterpreting those remarks. What both the Prime Minister and myself said this week was something very obvious, which us that in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle and the Auckland floods, of course, we have to consider the impact of those events and make sure that resilient transport infrastructure is a significant priority in the GPS."

"The member would be criticising us if we weren't saying that."

Greens transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter asked whether sometimes what is called "cycleways" are also "massive infrastructure like seawalls". 

"In fact, it's got nothing to do with the cycleway, even though it's funded from that budget."

Wood said he wouldn't go that far, but there is "certainly something in what you say".

He noted the Ngā Ūranga to Pito-One transport route alongside the Wellington harbour. It's a shared pathway for walking and cycling, but also has seawall sections.

"[It's] primarily understood by the public to be about creating a shared path along that link. It's a hugely positive project from that point of view.

"To your point, you are right, that actually a lot of the cost of that is going into creating a more resilient piece of infrastructure that will also protect the rail and the motorway corridor in that area. Yet effectively all of the cost of that gets banked against the cycleway.

"It does go a little bit back the other way sometimes in that sometimes some of the projects that we're delivering, for example the current widening of State Highway 1 in South Auckland will also effectively deliver a shared path that will have benefits for walking and cycling." 

At a press conference on Monday, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said resilience would be "right at the top of the priority list" in terms of transport.

"All Governments have to deal with the reality that's right in front of them, and one of the realities that's right in front of us is that we have a transport network that has shown to be wanting at a time when we're faced with a major catastrophe, and we have to put that front and centre of our decisions around transport planning and transport funding."

Hipkins said emissions reduction will also inform the transport plan. 

He said he was a "big fan" of busways and cycling, but "we also have to be investing in maintaining our roads and making sure that people can get around".