Outlook: A Few Storms


The reality seems to be sinking in for the government as it contemplates a rail-obsessed Auckland council, something abhorrent to its road lobby mates and core philosophy.

After a lie down and a cup of tea, ministers are realising a scary new dawn has been born in the north.

Initially there were smiles all around as the new mayor and prime minister enjoyed a day in the sun on Sunday in front of the impressive and just completed Eden Park South Stand . That official opening and the joyous day enjoyed by thousands of Aucklanders was to their great relief a positive sign that the RWC 2011 is on track for success.

But by the time Cabinet had spent time yesterday reviewing the left-leaning Auckland election results, and the potential for even a Greens mayor in Wellington, there was bitterness amid the smiles.

A source close to the action said the government was making the right genuine noises to be conciliatory with the new council but was privately arguing that it would have to be won over by a strong business case before it would consider government funding for more rail projects .

Transport minister Steven Joyce is said to insist that he would have to be persuaded by a strong factual case before he would let go off money already put aside for potential roading projects, presumably his much-loved Puhoi highway.

Publicly, when approached b y TV3, Joyce seemed quite exasperated about the whole thing.

When asked whether Auckland would get its new rail he sounded rather snappy: ““I’m not writing any cheques today… it’s very early and we have to give the council and mayor a chance to share their commitment. Which we share too and its about how we advance that further, on top of what is a very large expenditure that’s already going on.”

Can the smiles last?

Clearly, there is increasing grumpiness now that ministers have had time to commiserate that the government’s great vision for Auckland local body reform has not followed its planned manual.

As noted in an earlier post, Key made encouraging noises at the post-Cabinet news conference but added the caveat: “I would make the point; all roads, or railway tracks, cannot lead to Government. Ratepayers will also have to pay their fair share.”

He is more a realist than some of his colleagues, understanding that he can not argue for Auckland’s economy to grow – one of the main stated reasons for the Auckland reform – and then say it can’t have the projects the public said it wanted and candidates campaigned on. Auckland is the key electoral battleground and the election made clear voters were not over-awed by the way local body reform was thrust upon them. And Key has an election himself to win in a year’s time.

It was always realized that the projects would need some of its funding from sources other than government and the new mayor has talked publicly about investigating infrastructure bonds or a public/private partnership. Joyce has also said he would expect the Auckland council would have to find half the cost of the CBD link.

Joyce is a stickler for process and for hard economic benefit analysis before he even considers getting out his cheque book but is clearly of the view Auckland has had its share of millions for electrification and can’t expect any more. Any infrastructure money in the kitty would be better spent on roads which he considers everyone uses compared to rail which he believes only a section of Aucklanders may ever use.

Bill English as infrastructure minister is unconvinced by the idea of even the CBD rail link. And he told a meeting of local body leaders in August he expected smarter decisions when it came to their ideas for infrastructure projects.

“That means projects must be properly selected and must provide a justifiable return on taxpayers’ funds,”he told them.And the southern MP’s attitude to things rail was made clear in a speech in Christchurch in which he mused: New Zealand Rail was ”a black hole of complexity” to which it had committed recently another $750m. ”This is the price of nostalgia,” English said.

He will be genuinely confused that there is suddenly a serious discussion going on about putting rail to the airport, despite Joyce getting through his Manukau extensions on the basis the road trip to the airport wil be made easier and shorter.

Joyce says he’s prepared to consider the CBD case, for which his own KiwiRail department is already working on. He says central government is committed to electrification and the tunnel was possible and the most viable of what was being discussed.

That strong business case is going through its final review before being sent to him in a few weeks. If he does agree to it, he has warned it will be a longer term vision before any work on it starts, suggesting we won’t see the loop until sometime like 2027.

That will also see him in definite conflict with the new council which wants to go to its next crucial local body election in three years with proof construction on the loop is at least close to starting.

Brown,  Key & Joyce meet on Thursday.




  1. Commuter says:

    Sadly, were Joyce truly ‘a stickler for process and for hard economic benefit analysis before he even considers getting out his cheque book’ he wouldn’t have contemplated placing the Puhoi to Warkworth holiday highway (with a maximum BCR of .8) on his increasingly discredited RONS list. He is, put simply, an opportunistic National party politician, blessed with a provincial, speculative, mindset and a limited set of responses to dealing with the issues that confront the country today. And he’s prepared to use almost any tactic in order to pursue his ‘solutions’.

  2. Cam says:

    The issue here is that every last cent is tied up in RONS for the next decade. They had no idea of the groundswell of support for imporved PT and i still think they don’t truly comprehend it. The pressure will begin to mount and they will look more and more irrational an stubborn if they don’t change.

  3. Jon R says:

    Joyce, while pretending to be rational is actually becoming increasingly irrational and out of step with what Aucklanders (an Waikato folk) want.

    I would agree, the Minister had no idea about the level of support rail is enjoying. Hamilton East MP David Bennett and Ham. West MP Tim MacIndoe are also in the same boat with Joyce. I pity them for their limited ability in comprehending the issues-people want rail, they want it now!

  4. Matt L says:

    Just on the level of support, the herald now has a debate on rail at the link below, a quick look through the comments shows that about 90% of responses are saying “yes we need more rail and we need it now”

    As Cam and Jon R say, national better watch out because the public wants rail improvements and are starting to get vocal about it.


  5. Scott says:

    Don’t worry, national needs to make it appear that they are not giving Auckland a free ride to appease the rest of the country.

    Election year is really the time for multi-billion dollar promises anyway.

  6. karl says:

    “Don’t worry, national needs to make it appear that they are not giving Auckland a free ride to appease the rest of the country.”

    Increasingly, Auckland IS New Zealand - lots of voters here…

    “Outlook: A Few Storms”

    Well, I think if National is playing hardball, they may try to stymie Len’s rail enthusiams, and set him up for a fall, so that disappointed voters will ditch him in 3 years for not having achieved progress on his Nr 1 promise.

    If National does choose this course, then Len’s 2nd best strategy is to ram it home hard that the National government is trying to screw Aucklanders, just to rig the next election. It could be a tightrope fight for both sides - if you look weak and ineffective (risk for Len), or dithering and partisan (risk for Key) and you lose.

  7. Matt says:

    Joyce is making it very clear that it’s not RONS, it’s ROSN: Roads of Significance to National.

  8. karl says:

    As the Greens said: “Roads of National Party Signifiance”.

  9. Michael Wood says:

    People need to be really clear that the Nats are ideologically opposed to invrestment in the major publoc transport projects that Auckland needs.

    The only way that they will step forward with funding will be if the Len Brown and the new Council are vocally backed with huge public support. They will do it because they have to do it, not because they want to.


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