It could be dead in the water after next month’s election but Labour’s $29b plus Light Rail project for Auckland continues to keep hostilities between central government and Auckland city enflamed.
If the transport project itself was not controversial enough, the current Government wants to use the route to ignore council plans and infill housing in an area where three water infrastructure is struggling to cope with the existing level of housing.
As Mayor Wayne Brown has pointed out – the estimated $29 billion on a city single route is expected to blow-out according to Treasury and we are talking about a post-Covid city of no growth, with adequate transport between the city and the airport already in place. Plus, the debt-ridden city recovering from floods due to inadequate stormwater systems, has other pressing priorities that include completing the delayed and over-budget City Rail Link.
Last month Mayor Brown found out that the Government, without consulting his council, had directed our State Housing authority – Kainga Ora – to look into establishing a special development project (SDP) on the route.
Under s29(b) of the Urban Development Act, Kainga Ora must consider a Specified Development Project in the area between Mt Eden Rd and Sandringham Rd where the Auckland Light Rail project might be built, and report back by next July.
Epsom MP David Seymour says if the project were to proceed; “Kainga Ora would effectively be able to take over planning and development for whole suburbs, with the ability to change zoning, commission and develop infrastructure, and put in place targeted rates to pay for these developments. All of this would override the Auckland Unitary Plan and infrastructure plans already in place by Auckland Council.”
“This move is classic Labour, based on the false belief that centralising power will lead to greater efficiency. We have seen this approach fail with everything from polytechs to healthcare, and now they are imposing it on housing. The same party that gave us Kiwibuild is trying to impose their housing project on swathes of suburban Auckland but they are not solving the right problem.
Auckland Mayor Brown says; “This is not how you deal with the biggest city in New Zealand. It’s not partnership, it’s a bombing run. We should be telling them what we want.”
Councillor Christine Fletcher says parts of her own ward, Albert-Eden where the Light Rail route is planned, were devastated by flooding earlier this year and is shocked to hear of the directive given for an area vulnerable to flooding.
“This was a betrayal of trust to the council and shows extraordinary arrogance of the government,” says Fletcher.
Minister of Housing Megan Woods says the direction is just the beginning of a consultative process alongside Auckland Council before a decision is made.
“I have asked housing officials to work with their counterparts at Auckland Council to once again explain the process. This direction does not change anything already underway for the Council or ALR.
“Ministers still expect Auckland Council to continue the work it is doing to deliver a comprehensive variation to its Unitary Plan to enable intensification in the proposed ALR corridor, as ALR’s work on the urban business case needs to continue.”
The issue could be just expensive local-political history if we have a National-led Government after next month, as the party promises to scrap the project completely.