By Jason Walls
A confidential report, prepared for Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, reveals the “considerable risks” of pushing through legislation accelerating the delivery of light rail to Auckland.
But Transport Minister Phil Twyford, who was given the report by the Mayor, is dismissing its findings and says it’s “highly likely” this legislation will come before Parliament regardless.
Interest.co.nz has obtained the document, which provides a feasibility assessment for an accelerated delivery of light rail between the city and airport before the end of 2020.
In July last year, Goff requested that Auckland Transport (AT), which is owned by Auckland Council, prepare the report to assess the impact of the project being completed before both the America's Cup and the APEC summit in 2021.
He received it on October 1 last year.
But he chose not to share the report with Council members at the time. Interest.co.nz contacted a number of councillors, none of whom had seen or could recall seeing the report.
Some were shocked they were kept out of the loop of such a significant project – “it highlights a culture of exclusivity,” one says. Another says it’s “seriously concerning” it had not been made available to them.
This comes just days after nine Auckland Councillors wrote to the Mayor, expressing their “strong dissatisfaction” at the Mayor’s “non-inclusive” style of leadership, after being kept out of the loop of a report about a potential new Auckland waterfront stadium.
In response to queries from Interest.co.nz, the Mayor issued a statement to all Councillors on Friday regarding the light rail report.
“In July, as part of my regular catch up with AT, I was told they had already started work on the “what if” scenarios for light rail,” the email, obtained by Interest.co.nz, says.
“They had already established conditions if light rail was to be completed. This was part of the work they were doing in parallel to the work with the previous Government on the Bus vs Light rail to airport.”
He says by the time the report was completed, it was superseded by the intentions of the new Government to redo the Government Policy Statement and Auckland Transport Alignment Project.
“Therefore, the report was not presented to Auckland Council by AT.”
He says Councillors were made aware of the document by the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act department in February.
“As usual practice, the Councillors were welcome to receive the reports if they wanted it.”
Despite this, Interest.co.nz spoke to no Councillors that were aware of the report.
Goff’s Chief of Staff Nirupa George says the report was not circulated to Councillors at the time because of the change in Government and its new light rail strategy.
The report says an accelerated light rail programme would come with “considerable risks” including market capacity, complex structural engineering requirements, procurement timeframes, legislative decision-making processes and a potential cost blowout.
“There are no international examples of [light rail] being delivered within the proposed timescale that the AT and its advisers are aware of,” the report – Airport to City Light Rail Transit Acceleration Strategy – says.
Depending on the scale and scope of the programme, the report says the costs of the construction and rolling stock will be between $930 million and $1.205 billion.
“[These] costs do not include the potential cost premium that may be associated with accelerated delivery and adjustments are likely once design development, construction methodology and rolling stock requirements are finalised.”
It also says present market conditions indicate significant constraints in capacity within both New Zealand and global market for light rail, which could impact on the accelerated programme assumptions.
“This could have an impact on the ability to deliver on time and within budget – particularly in the construction and infrastructure sector relative to the various contract packages and timescales required.”
"It is not feasible to deliver LRT [Light Rail Transit] on the full Airport to City Centre corridor in time for the major events scheduled for 2021," the report says.
Accelerated delivery could be problematic when it comes to how the project is funded.
The light rail contract is open to a procurement process run by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA).
In May, the New Zealand Super Fund signalled its “strong interest” in the contract.
“Given the accelerated requirements, typical procurement timeframes do not appear possible to meet the required date of December 2020,” the report says.
A “bespoke procurement approach” will need to be agreed with Government to meet the accelerated in service delivery requirements.
This would mean the procurement would need to run in parallel with the construction elements to enable in service delivery requirements to be met, the report says.
But this would create a “number of significant” risks.
The project would appear less attractive to the international market which may “significantly impact bidding interests.”
It could also create a risk of significant gaps in project understanding and detail forming that will ultimately impact delivery, timescales, cost and project and operational outcomes.
Twyford not phased
But Twyford does not appear to be concerned about the report’s findings.
He says Mayor Goff did provide him with a copy of the report.
This is just “one report of many” he says, adding that it’s important not “to get hung up on one report that Auckland Council has done.”
Despite saying it’s “highly likely” the Government will introduce legislation accelerating the project, Twyford says it’s not his expectation for the project to be ready before the America’s Cup.
Given this, why would the Government look to accelerate legislation if Twyford has been briefed on the risks?
“Because it’s an important project,” he says.
“We’re a Government of change and we want to get on and make sure that we do something serious about Auckland’s congestion problems.
“We feel some urgency and wanted to get on and get cracking with the light rail project – it’s an important investment in Auckland’s growth and prosperity.”
Speaking to Parliament's Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee on Thursday, he was unable to provide a timeline on when he expected the project to be completed.
“The precise timing for that will be determined in the course of the business case being developed so I can’t give a date on that yet.”
Opposition Transport Spokesman Jami Lee-Ross says this is “poor process from Twyford."
“I don’t think the Minister should be proceeding with legislation to accelerate a transport project which will see cost premiums being paid – effectively taxpayers paying through the nose for light rail that he hasn’t even done a business assessment on yet.”