After saying it’s willing to fund the Auckland light rail project the New Zealand Superannuation Fund's financial clout hasn’t gone unnoticed.
A group of inspired local body politicians from Auckland’s North Shore is now calling for it to come to the table and fund a tunnel under the Waitemata Harbour to give Auckland a new harbour crossing.
In the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board's latest agenda it says the fund has the capital to fund the project which has been put on the backburner for far too long. It says the area will benefit from significant regional transport projects such as SkyPath, SeaPath and an additional harbour crossing.
“Yet the project is consistently delayed and is yet to be developed. A new NZTA report also says we're well behind with the planning, and that the Auckland Harbour Bridge will be at full capacity for all transport modes by 2030. However, a new Waitematā Harbour crossing will take at least 10 years to plan and another five to seven to build. Part of the issue is a lack of funding.”
So the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board is now planning to write to the NZ Super Fund recommending that it cashes in its investments in the US arms industry and confirm its support for the Waitemata Harbour crossing tunnel project.
It says with the NZ Super Fund’s largesse they could look at the timelines and the feasibility of investing in the project and maybe even bring it forward.
“The NZ Super Fund had confirmed last year that it had submitted an unsolicited proposal to the Government offering to assess the viability of the Auckland light rail project for commercial investment. It seems a logical step to also include the additional harbour crossing in the mix of infrastructure projects that the fund could consider," the politicians say.
According to the politicians' report the NZ Super Fund has shareholdings in three US arms companies worth $1.3 million.
“Those companies are American Outdoor Brands, which owns Smith & Wesson; Sturm Ruger & Co; and Vista Outdoor. It would seem prudent to support the fund in its proposal to divest its interests in these types of companies. The additional harbour crossing is an area that the funds could be reinvested. Of course, additional funds above the funds mentioned above, of $1.3 million, would be needed to ensure the additional harbour crossing project was able to be confirmed and committed to the required timetable.”
NZ Super Fund spokeswoman Catherine Etheredge says the local board proposal is an interesting proposition.
“We are aware of community support for a third harbour crossing in Auckland and are certainly interested in understanding whether major infrastructure projects such as this could meet our commercial requirements for investment,” Etheredge says.
“That said, not all infrastructure projects will be suitable for investment by the fund – given our long-term investment horizon, we are looking for growth assets, aligned and experienced co-investment partners, and the potential for commercially attractive risk-adjusted returns.”
But she says there’s a major gap between the amount of money the fund has in the gun manufacturing and retail industry and the projected costs involved in building a new harbour crossing.
The idea of building a tunnel under Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour has been around for decades and raised its head once again in an NZ Transport Agency briefing paper in September last year to Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter.
It is still being considered by the Government as a way to battle the city’s traffic gridlock. But even if it is given the green light, work wouldn't start on the proposal until the 2030s.
The report outlines three main options, do nothing, build a new harbour crossing with light rail and road access, or build a harbour crossing for light rail only.
A 2010 report from NZTA estimated the tunnel would cost around $4 billion and it could be built sometime between 2030 and 2050.