The Government has reverted to square one with the troubled Auckland light rail project.
And it is saying that key decisions on the light rail - including fundamental issues such as its route - will not be made till the end of this year after a new group to be formed has spent six months looking at the options.
Remember, this is a project that was a key plank in Labour's election campaign in 2017. The first part of the line was meant to be up and running within four years.
But the process got horribly bogged down with no agreement able to be reached on who should build the line and how, before the whole thing was ultimately shelved till after the 2020 election.
Transport Minister Michael Wood has now announced formation of an 'establishment unit' to, in his words: "...progress this important city-shaping project and engage with Aucklanders".
Aucklanders felt 'shut out'
And Wood concedes that the previous aborted efforts to get the project started "didn't involve Aucklanders enough".
“There’s wide-ranging support for rapid transit but Aucklanders felt shut out of the project. Today I’m drawing a line under that and involving Aucklanders from the get-go," he said.
The Establishment Unit will be led by an "inclusive governance board", involving an independent chair, local government, key agencies and community and Māori representatives.
“Involving Auckland Council is critical, so the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor of Auckland will work with me and the Minister of Finance to oversee this work."
The statement from the minister didn't name any names in terms of membership of the board, which would suggest appointments are still being made.
“While the establishment unit will get started from today, in the coming weeks I intend to announce the appointment of the independent chair who will work with Aucklanders on this project,” Wood said
He said the Government had "tasked" the Establishment Unit with a six-month work programme including:
- partnering with Māori,
- engaging with stakeholders and communities,
- developing a business case so evidence-based decisions can be made on mode and route, providing cost estimates, and funding and financing options which includes looking at value capture,
- determining the best form for the delivery entity, which will be either City Rail Link Limited or a new joint venture with Auckland Council.
“Once the Government receives the advice from the establishment unit at the end of the year, we will make the key decisions on route, mode, and delivery entity. We will then be able to give the public certainty on issues like cost and timeframes."
Wood said he realised people would have liked him "to announce a shovel-ready project today".
"...But I also want to be absolutely certain that the plan we move forward with is the right one. That’s why this fresh start is involving Aucklanders and doing the work alongside them."
Without decisive investment 'Auckland will choke on its own growth'
Wood said light rail was "a critical investment to develop a modern, connected mass-transit system in New Zealand’s largest city, supporting jobs, growth, and housing".
“Without decisive investment in mass transit, Auckland will choke on its own growth. Light rail will support growth in Māngere, Onehunga, and Mount Roskill in particular, connecting these communities and giving people the option to leave the car at home, which will help reduce congestion and emissions.
“As the new Transport Minister, I’ve been tasked with getting the project moving and I acknowledge Aucklanders were shut out of the previous process. We’ve had calls for Government to involve communities and stakeholders – I’ve listened and this is what we’ll do.
“Our vision for Auckland is to create a vibrant connected city that’s easier, cleaner and safer to get around – light rail will help make that happen. The city centre to Māngere line will be a backbone that eventually will link with the North and North-west, forming a rapid transit network that fully integrates with other forms of transport across the city.
“Today’s announcement means that the community will be involved in helping us to develop the most significant city-shaping piece of infrastructure since the Auckland Harbour Bridge."