Nicola Willis says Government committed to coalition transport projects despite report showing they could cost double 

She denied the new estimates had dented National's economic credibility.
She denied the new estimates had dented National's economic credibility. Photo credit: Newshub.

The Finance Minister says the Government remains committed to the transport projects in its coalition agreements as a report shows the transport agency has estimated they could cost up to $24 billion more.   

The National-New Zealand First agreement includes the commitment to progress National's policy of building 13 new Roads of National Significance and four major public transport upgrades. National's election transport document laid out how much it estimated each project to cost.   

But the NZ Herald on Wednesday morning reported it had seen a New Zealand Transport Agency Waka Kotahi (NZTA) document developed in November which showed updated cost estimates for transport projects.   

It estimated that 17 projects that National campaigned on could cost between $30.9 billion and $46.6 billion, according to the Herald, which would be up to $24 billion more than what National forecasted for the same projects.     

These include the Cambridge to Piarere road, East-West Link, Second Mt Victoria Tunnel and Basin Reserve Upgrade, as well as three public transport projects.   

Asked at Parliament on Wednesday if the Government remained committed to building the projects, Finance Minister Nicola Willis said the promises made at the election and in the coalition documents stood.   

"We will have more to say about our future transport plans in the Government's Policy Statement (GPS). I am not going to get ahead of the Minister of Transport's announcement. We remain very committed to a significant number of transport projects which will be illustrated in the Government Policy Statement."   

She said the GPS would be "affordable and deliver excellent new transport connections for New Zealand".    

"I am saying we can afford to deliver infrastructure and there are a few things we are going to do to make our dollars go further," Willis said.   

That would include a faster approach to consent to reduce the cost of projects, she said.   

National's transport policy contained four main funding methods for its plans, including reprioritisations from the National Land Transport Fund and the New Zealand Upgrade Programme, partnering with more global and local investors, and new value capture tools.   

She denied the new estimates had dented National's economic credibility.   

Transport Minister Simeon Brown said in a statement that the GPS would show how projects would be funded.   

"As Minister of Transport, I have already made a number of decisions to rein in the previous Government's reckless and unfunded spending commitments.

"This has included scrapping Auckland Light Rail, which was expected to cost up to $29b and after six years and $228m had failed to deliver even a metre of track. I also cancelled Let’s Get Wellington Moving, an expensive project that failed to deliver for the capital city."

It was reported that NZTA's estimates were "preliminary" and as some projects had been inactive for several years, its starting point for some cost estimates were highly variable. It had taken the last known estimated cost and inflated it to 2023 dollars, according to the Herald.    

Willis repeated the claim from the Prime Minister in his State of the Nation speech on Sunday that there had been a $200 billion gap between the previous Government's transport project promises and money set aside.   

Labour leader and former Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said on Sunday that was "absolute nonsense". On RNZ on Monday, he said his Government had taken the same approach as other governments in laying out what would be funded over the next few years. He said the amount of funding estimated gets less specific the further in the future it may be needed.   

The pre-election economic and fiscal update highlighted transport project funding as a fiscal risk. There were projects that needed additional funding. It specified several projects, including the now-cancelled light rail and Lets Get Wellington Moving.   

Willis said the extent of the difference between commitments and funding was a new piece of information.