Leaked information that the cost of Auckland’s City Rail link, New Zealand’s largest transport project, has blown out by $500 million is deeply concerning and raises questions about the Government’s ability to manage its finances, National’s Transport spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“The cost of the project has already risen to $3.4 billion, but revised estimates have increased this figure by $500 million. If this is true, this is a big failure of oversight by the Government, as the project is jointly funded between the Government and Auckland Council.
“Transport Minister Phil Twyford is happy to go 18 metres below Albert Street for photo opportunities, but so far has done nothing about the ever increasing runaway costs.
“You can be sure that if the City Rail Link project is facing this type of blow out, a slow tram to the airport would show a similar pattern.
“Sydney is already facing issues with its slow train. The light rail was initially expected to cost $1.6 billion but the budget has blown out to at least $2.1 billion, with a contractor suggesting it could go even further.
“The Government needs to be taking better care of taxpayer money. Transport Minister Phil Twyford needs to come out and explain how much the blowout is going to be, and what he is doing to minimise any further costs.”
Reports that Westland Milk is talking to well-financed potential bidders for the company raise serious questions about the $9.9 million soft loan from Shane Jones’ Regional Slush Fund, National’s Economic and Regional Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“The confidential talks reportedly include Canadian dairy giant Saputo, which rivals Fonterra in scale and has already made significant dairy acquisitions in Australia.
“New Zealand has always relied on overseas capital but what does it mean for Mr Jones’ taxpayer-funded, subsidised loan if it was to go to an overseas company? The Government has refused to release details of the favourable loan to the struggling dairy group or whether it has even been made.
“Did Shane Jones know Westland Milk was going to seek more capital overseas when he announced the loan as part of the Provincial Growth Fund’s package for the West Coast? Or was he distracted by the pork barrel benefits of distributing funds with little oversight?
“The refusal by the Government and its officials to reveal the size of the hidden subsidy in the cheap loan to Westland Milk makes a mockery of its claim to be the most open and transparent Government. It is not acceptable for the Government to hide this information.
“Officials were happy to rattle off a list of benefits from the loan, but they didn’t include making it more attractive to overseas buyers.”
A substantial increase in fares for Auckland commuters is not going to help the Government’s goal of increasing public transport patronage and is yet another added cost to hardworking Kiwi families, National’s Transport spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
Phil Twyford and Julie-Anne Genter constantly talk about wanting to get more people out of their cars but their spending decisions don’t back that up.
“The Government is prioritising a slow tram to the Airport which will cost billions of dollars and for which nobody can understand the logic, instead of making spending decisions which will actually improve people’s lives.
“Of course it should be Auckland Transport’s priority to keep its cost under control so that Aucklanders can afford their transport.
“This is yet another hit in the pocket for hardworking Kiwis, on top of rents increasing by $30 a week because of poor policy decisions and increased taxes. The Government needs to look at its wasteful spending on the slow tram, free tertiary and Shane Jones’s slush fund and reprioritise this to areas that matter to New Zealanders.”
The decision by the Labour-led Government to fund a commuter train between Hamilton and Auckland is another clear example of this Government’s wasteful spending and poor priorities, National’s Transport spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“Putting a maximum of 150 people a day on a diesel train is not going to make any meaningful impression on the congested Southern Motorway. It would be far more sensible to extend the Auckland electric trains beyond Pukekohe to Tuakau so that travellers from all over the Waikato could take a single trip into Auckland.
“The Government’s own business case for the diesel train to Hamilton is woeful.
The benefit cost ratio is 0.5, meaning every $100 million spent on the rail, only $50 million will be returned.
“Based on the passenger service running at almost full capacity every working day of the year for the next six years, the projects amounts to a subsidy of up to $140 per passenger per trip – totalling $78 million.
“But that’s assuming people will use the train. It’s going to take two and a half hours to travel from Hamilton City to Britomart, with a change at Papakura. I don’t know many people who want to spend five hours a day in a train.
“Between June 2016 and 2017, the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) recorded an average of 20,532 vehicles travelling northbound, and 22,985 vehicles travelling southbound at Bombay every day.
“With an initial daily capacity of just 150 passengers each way, it won’t make a noticeable difference to the number of cars travelling between Hamilton and Auckland.
“National had a better plan for rail. We would have pushed ahead with complete electrification of the network from Pukekohe to Tuakau.
“This could then come with a park and ride for Waikato commuters to get into Auckland without changing trains. The Government doesn’t appear to have considered this option, because they are ideologically opposed to Park and Ride.
“The Government would be better to focus on what works for most people, rather than carrying out expensive projects for the few.”
The Government’s latest announcement of safety improvements for roads across New Zealand shows how important National’s Roads of National Significance programme is, and why it should’ve been picked up by Transport Minister Phil Twyford, National’s Transport spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“Motorists do make mistakes on our roads and we want to minimise the effects of those mistakes, but single lane highways with a line of sticks separating traffic, nowhere to pass and lower speed limits is a poor substitute for the highly engineered four lane state highways National was building.
“Even with the raised 110 kilometre per hour speed limit, National’s Roads of National Significance are some of the safest in New Zealand, and they help Kiwis get to their destination quicker.
“But under the current Government the much needed upgrades to our regional highways have been left in the dust as the funding is funnelled into a slow tram to Auckland Airport.
“$5.3 billion has been siphoned from the regions and they are now forced to settle for half measures and compromises.
“The announcement from the Government doesn’t go far enough. New Zealanders are paying more across the country in fuel taxes, they deserve to see extensive investment in their regional roads.”
Auckland Transport’s plan to radically reduce the speed limit in the CBD is an over-reaction that would prove deeply frustrating for Aucklanders, National’s Transport spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“Consultation on a plan to reduce the speed limit for the entire CBD inside the motorway loop and for a significant slice of the city’s road network will begin in the New Year. There will be a 40 per cent speed reduction in significant parts of the transport network, with cars only able to travel 30 kilometres per hour down major roads, like Hobson Street and Nelson Street.
“It looks as though regardless of the consultation, transport planners are determined to press ahead.
“Aucklanders need to push back on this plan. This is a radical change, driven as much by anti-car zealotry as it is by safety concerns. It is hard to understand given cars have never been safer than they are now.
“The spike in accidents in Auckland last year is absolutely a cause for concern, but we should consider all factors, such as enforcement of current rules around drink driving, red-light running, drivers distracted by cell-phones, not wearing seatbelts, driving under the influence of drugs and exceeding current speed limits, before a radical slowing down of the city.
“The purpose of transport planning should be to make it easier for Aucklanders to get around. Public transport, cycling and walking will work for some people, but most families – with parents picking up kids from sports practice on the way home from work and the countless complications of everyday life – rely on cars and roads.
“Arbitrarily and radically slowing down traffic makes it more difficult to get around. A 30 kilometres per hour limit will make sense in some streets, but a blanket speed reduction across the entire CBD is an overreaction.
“The Council also seems to forget there are 24 hours in the day – and forcing people to crawl down wide roads at many times of the day when there is little or no traffic on the road is intensely frustrating and unnecessary.
“The CBD proposals are just one of many and follow NZTA moves to turn increasingly large sections of the motorway network into 80 kilometres per hour.
“Auckland Transport’s radicalism needs to be tempered with common sense.”
The Government’s travelling caravan of grants and soft loans is continuing to the West Coast tomorrow with the bequeathing of $140 million of taxpayer funds that raises more questions than answers, Economic and Regional Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“All the recipients of these funds will be happy and we wish them all the best but all this largesse won’t make up for the economic impact of this Government closing off 85 per cent of land on the West Coast to mining.
“The Greens policy being driven by Eugenie Sage to stop all mining on the vast areas of stewardship land that are under scrub with low conservation values is the most significant policy relating to regional development and it is wholly negative.
“The Prime Minister and the Regional Development Minister will announce which projects they’ve chosen to back as winners. It includes a soft loan for Westland Milk Products, which must be at a rate no bank was willing to offer.
“The Government and taxpayers shouldn’t be taking on the role of a bank, especially one that is directly controlled by Ministers. It will rebrand $45 million of the broadband rollout to boost fibre investment as a PGF initiative.
“Of course we welcome confirmation that fibre and broadband will continue to be rolled out on the West Coast. Road and rail are again targeted for investment, arguably for spending where there was already broad commitment, along with a wellness centre.
“It is frankly a dangerous power to give to any Government, the ability to spend billions of dollars on projects in the provinces that aren’t transparent enough to show whether politics is one of the threads behind the press releases and public relations hoopla.
“This reminds us yet again how confused the Government is when it comes to regional development. One part of the Government is making it much more difficult for people on the West Coast and another part arrives doling out cash.”
Shane Jones could hire the Prime Minister to work on his tree-planting schemes – and she’d get a pay rise – based on the fuzzy economics of the Provincial Growth Fund, National’s Economic and Regional Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“The Minister’s own officials have estimated the $485 million forestry injection from the PGF would create 1,000 jobs. That’s half the number Mr Jones sometimes cites and works out at $485,000 per job, or $15,000 more than the Prime Minister earns in a year.
“When asked about his ambitious target, the Minister gave a facetious reply, saying New Zealanders should be prepared to wait as much as 100 years, the time it takes for a Totara to grow, for that sort of result.
“Unfortunately that may be a best-case scenario because it doesn’t take into account jobs lost from the sheep and beef sector when farmland is converted to forestry.
“We could easily find that once we account for job losses in the pastoral industry there may be fewer than 500 genuinely new jobs – that’s getting close to $1 million per job.
“Meantime, the biggest challenge facing businesses in most regions is finding workers.
“Job creation was touted as the main economic benefit of the $1.1 million from the PGF allocated to tree planting on the shores of Te Waihora/Lakes Ellesmere, for example, but down the road in Ashburton there are 500 job vacancies that employers are struggling to fill.
“Elsewhere Shane Jones has suggested the new jobs could be exported, quipping that if they aren’t all filled by ‘nephs on the couch’ they could be taken up by ‘a few Melanesians’.
“So, once more Mr Jones is being tricky with his figures and the Provincial Growth Fund has muddled objectives. I’m not sure many people would think a priority for Government spending should be providing work opportunities for people overseas?”
Labour has endowed its junior partner with wads of cash and latitude to meddle but its grandiose plans to reshape North Island port and transport infrastructure smacks of nationalisation, National’s Judith Collins and Paul Goldsmith say.
“It beggars belief that Labour is playing along with NZ First’s scheme to divert shipping, freight and logistics to Northland, against the wishes of profitable port companies and their owners, with no economic rationale and at vast cost,” Infrastructure spokesperson Judith Collins says.
“Ports of Auckland facilitates 170,000 jobs in the Auckland region. If vehicle imports alone were moved to Northport it would result in an extra 19 million kilometres of road transport and $81 million in extra annual costs. Carbon emissions would jump by 22,500 tonnes.
“It must be awkward for Labour to see the Auckland Council under Mayor Phil Goff visibly squirming as this working group runs its ruler over the Council-owned Ports of Auckland without bothering to talk to the Council.
“Labour brought this on itself because not only did it give NZ First billions of dollars of loose cash to spend but also agreed to a feasibility study to move Ports of Auckland to Whangarei and a promise to spend some of the $3 billion Provincial Growth fund on regional rail.
“Stakeholders in ports and transport will be gobsmacked at this body of work. Sure there are questions about the future of some Auckland port activities but that should be based on economics not politics and owners of profitable businesses shouldn’t have the playing field changed from under them,” Ms Collins says.
“Auckland Council’s spending needs are huge and its debt lines are all but tapped out. It should be looking hard at its spending and its assets, including the port but seemingly Jones wants those decisions made in Wellington by politicians. In other countries, that is called nationalisation,” Transport spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“It’s clear this is a faulty process because Auckland councillors say they don’t trust Shane Jones’ working group and worry that they will lose control of one of Auckland’s key infrastructure assets.
“A massive amount of work towards developing a long-term plan for the port has already been done, and the working group’s willingness to dismiss this work has only fuelled this discontent. Mr Jones is damaging the relationship between Council and Government.
“This, sadly, is what we’ve come to expect from the clear politicisation of the Provincial Growth Fund by Shane Jones. He has defended the clear bias in funding so far to Northland with the line ‘to the victor goes the spoils’.
“New Zealand’s infrastructure is too important to be used as a political football. It should be geared toward economic growth and free from political meddling, as it would be under a National Government,” Mr Goldsmith says.
Shane Jones has confirmed his flagship forest investment in Northland was bungled after pine seedlings ended up being mulched, National’s Economic and Regional Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“It’s our money and your reputation being mulched, Mr Jones.
“The Minister’s extraordinary admission speaks volumes about the lax rules in place around the Provincial Growth Fund. ‘Mulching’ is a higher risk for any venture that involves taxpayer funds and lacks full disclosure.
“We’ve seen evidence this week that Provincial Growth Fund meetings were among 61 that Mr Jones forgot until recently he had attended. This is a Minister given a loose grant of some $3 billion to pursue investments that suffer from a lack of transparency.
“Now we learn that the inaugural venture in the One Billion Trees scheme was a bust, with seedlings destroyed.
“This is incompetence laid bare. It shows the risks of wild and frenetic spending to an overtly political timetable. Jones concedes as much, telling the Herald that he has ‘three years to roll out planting of 23,000ha’.
“New Zealanders are entitled to expect taxpayer money will be spent sensibly not rushed out the door to bolster the election prospects of New Zealand First.”