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Transport Minister to respond over Wayne Brown's ‘dead duck’ light rail jab

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 17 Mar 2023, 11:06am

Transport Minister to respond over Wayne Brown's ‘dead duck’ light rail jab

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 17 Mar 2023, 11:06am

Transport Minister Michael Wood is fronting up to reporters this morning after blowouts on the City Rail Link and a shot across the bow from Auckland Mayor Wanye Brown who labelled light rail a ‘dead duck’.

Wood is expected to speak at a stand-up at 10:30 in Auckland.

Brown yesterday predicted there will be further blowouts to the City Rail Link budget, and hopes to use the latest overspends as leverage against the Government.

“Light rail is a dead duck mate, let’s be real,” he told Newstalk ZB yesterday afternoon.

It comes as the CRL project bosses on Wednesday delayed the completion date and asked Auckland Council and Central Government for an extra $1 billion in funding.

Brown said he predicted the blowout last year almost to the dollar, saying he expected the final cost to be around $6b. It currently stands at $5.5b.

He said the Government wasn’t the only point of blame for the cost overruns. Brown also didn’t think the right people had been given control of the project.

“The people that they put in charge from Wellington don’t have the correct experience. We tend to rely on lawyers in this country instead of people who have got money in the game,” Brown said.

Earlier yesterday, Brown told RNZ he accepted Auckland Council will have to pick up a share of the CRL budget blowout but said he would hold “tough” talks with the Government to push it to pay more.

“We had no say in the Covid rules, we had less say than what I would like in the actual contract management set-up. The people that made the decision were from Wellington and inexperienced in my view,” Brown said.

When asked for his bottom line if he wasn’t prepared to split the costs 50/50, he said he would rather use the blowouts as leverage against the Government for other “complex deals”.

“I’m a trader and I’m in there to trade,” Brown said

“I’ve got $1b to pay for the weather.

“I’ve got a budget blowout bequest to me by the new High Commissioner to England.”

Brown also said he wanted to hand a “whole bunch of things back to the Government”, including the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, which he might try to leverage his way out of.

“I don’t see why ratepayers should be fixing people’s marriages, that’s something that should go back to the Government,” Brown said.

Raising rates to cover the CRL project’s extra costs was an “end of the road choice”, not a preferred one.

CRL blamed the Covid-19 lockdowns and lost time spent on site for the overruns, which took the project’s cost to an estimated $5.493b.

It means Auckland Council is now facing an estimated $1b shortfall between finding the extra money for the CRL and paying for flood damage from this year’s wild weather.

Transport Minister Michael Wood on Wednesday appeared to dash any hope Central Government would pick up a larger share of CRL’s extra $1 billion cost.

City Rail Link timeline

The City Rail Link project will aim to double the capacity of trains in Auckland’s inner city by building 3.4km of underground railway along with some new stations.

The project’s cost is now estimated to be $5.493b - a $1.074b increase on the previous estimate of $4.419b.

The $4.4b estimated cost was itself a $1b cost increase approved in 2019 above the original $3.4b estimated cost for the project.

The project was originally planned to be completed in late 2024, but this week revised the completion date for the stations and supporting rail infrastructure to November 2025.

When Auckland councillors voted in May 2019 for the council to pay its $500m share of the last $1b cost increase, then-Mayor Phil Goff said without the CRL, Auckland would hit gridlock and the city grind to a halt.

“Without additional funding, the CRL would not have been fit for purpose,” Goff said at the time.

“We would have had another Harbour Bridge on our hands which was built at half of the size it needed to be and had to have major additions made to it within eight years.”

“We’ve got one shot at getting the CRL right.”

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