Naitonal reaches for cheque book to counter Jacindamania
By Richard Harman (author)
National realising that it can do little to counter the media’s love affair with new Labour leader Jacinda Ardern plans to open its war chest and spend more money on Auckland transport.
Both Labour and National announced transport policies over the weekend but neither really contained anything new --- however, National has plans to unveil more spending on more projects between now and the election.
Transport Minister Simon Bridges confirmed to POLITIK last night that he has received an update on the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP)which has been the blueprint for the Government's transport funding decisions in Auckland.
“What we’ve got to do is work through the detail with the Council,” he said.
“We’ll have more to say soon in a small number of weeks, before the election.”
Bridges has only just received the ATAP update which takes into account population changes.
But it would seem reasonable to infer that it could result in the bringing forward of some projects which is essentially what Labour is proposing with its transport policy released yesterday.
But the two big headline policies in its announcement – light rail to the airport and a regional fuel tax have been part of Labour’s policy for some time now.
The light rail proposal emerged during the Mt Roskill by-election last year, and the fuel tax was actually proposed by the Clark Government in 2007.
The policy, however, draws heavily on the work of Greater Auckland, formerly the Auckland transport blog, a lobby group which is sceptical about motorways and in favour of more emphasis on public transport.
Labour’s proposal for a light rail to the airport was announced during the Mt Roskill by-election last year, and the fuel tax was actually proposed by the Clark Government.
In 2007 the Clark Government approved a regional fuel tax for Auckland, rising from 2 cents per litre in July 2009 to 9.5 cents per litre in 2011. Auckland road users would have been taxed at that rate for 30 years.
But National, convinced that such a tax would be electorally unpopular, scrapped it in 2009 and in many ways by doing that precipitated what has been over five years of stasis in Auckland transport planning.
However, Labour's proposal got unexpected support yesterday from Infrastructure NZ CEO, Stephen Selwood, who said Labour's commitment to solving Auckland's long term transport funding challenge was a big step forward.
"Carefully applied targeted rates, in particular, could be transformational in Auckland.
"Labour will introduce a 10 cents per litre regional fuel tax, which will levy around $160 million per annum, and deploy targeted rates to fund the remainder.
"The region is facing an annual deficit of around half a billion dollars to fund the agreed programme.
"Over the past few years, we've seen major public transport investments materialise as property value increases, but had limited scope to capture that value and use it to fund the programme."
National, on the other hand, is sticking closely to the projects already outlined in the Auckland Transport Alignment Project with a proposal to electrify the rail line as far south as Papakura and a hurry up on the first part of the Mill Road upgrade which will take traffic in parallel to the southern motorway from Manukau to Papakura and Drury.
Transport Minister Simon Bridges argues that some of the urgency about the link to the airport has gone with the opening of the Waterview tunnel.
“Now it’s 25 minutes literally almost every time,” he told POLITIK.
"The light rail programme will be needed ultimately because it is the only way you can move a big group of people through a corridor, but it's going to be double the time again.
“You just wonder why Labour is putting all the focus on that.”
Bridges says light rail will cost $100 million a kilometre and it is 22 kilometres from downtown to the airport but he claims that overseas light rail projects have almost always exceeded their budget.
He argues that to fund the Government’s half of the light rail Labour would have to cancel the East-West clink which is already under construction and which is intended to provide a seamless link between the South-Western Motorway and the Southern Motorway.
In what looks like a major backdown National confirmed on Friday that it would spend $27 billion --- an increase on previously announced figures of $20 billion --- over the next ten years with the Council on transport projects in Auckland.
In September 2016 when ATAP was agreed the total Auckland transport funding to be provided by the Government was $20 billion, but even then there was a $4 billion funding gasp which as recently as April this year, Finance Minister Steven Joyce, argued should be covered by the Auckland Council reprioritising projects.
"The way the budget is set up for Auckland Council, they're looking at reducing their expenditure on transport over the next few years," he said.
But by June the Council argued that the funding gap had grown to $7 billion, and the Government was coming under intense political pressure to solve Auckland’s transport problems.
Thus the decision announced on Friday to foot the whole bill.
So though the Government lost the media battle to Ardern and Labour over the weekend, it does have Treasury on its side, and it looks as though it will be willing to spend its way to election day if it has to.
By in large most it seems positive, in that most of what they’re promising are projects we’ve been supportive of for years and will greatly support PT in Auckland. I think it also represents how much the discussion in NZ has shifted over the last 10-20 years in that we’re likely to have all major parties having come to realise, or at least accept, that significant investment in PT is needed and popular with voters.
The biggest issue is just how long it’s taken the government to come to this realisation and as such have missed key opportunities,