Treasury at Loggerheads with Transport Minister over City Centre to Mangere Light Rail Project. Opaqueness from NZTA does no favours

Lack of information sparks speculation

Rather coincidentally as I was preparing my Ombudsman compliant (actually there is no such thing as coincidence) against NZTA’s refusal of my Official Information Act request on the City Centre to Mangere Light Rail project (CC2M) (see: Inadequate Response from NZTA on City Centre to Mangere Light Rail sparks Ombudsman Complaint) a fellow Tweeter shared a link from Interest.co.nz on Treasury being at tension with Transport Minister Twyford over CC2M and its complexity.

For the full article see: Treasury report shows tensions with the Minister of Transport Phil Twyford over ‘extremely complex’ Auckland light rail project

That article was published yesterday the same day I got my OIA request back and it looks like NZTA were showing the same level of contempt in withholding information to Interest as I got with my OIA request.

Let’s break down the article as it is a pile of ouch on an already delayed project:

A Treasury report shows tensions between the Minister of Transport Phil Twyford and Treasury over the Auckland light rail project.

The report was written by David Taylor from Treasury’s National Infrastructure Unit and highlights the delays and cost blow-outs experienced with another similar project in the UK.

“To illustrate the possible risks, we note that construction of the Edinburgh light rail suffered major time and money overruns, eventually taking six years to build and costing more than twice as much as initial estimates. Given the size of the project, the fiscal risks and the build and operational challenges, we consider a strong examination of the implementation choices is essential.”

The Treasury paper says the need for a new in-depth business case for the project is vital and will need to spell out the strategic and economic basis for the project, as well as consider alternative options and a cost benefit analysis of the preferred option.

Treasury report shows tensions with the Minister of Transport Phil Twyford over ‘extremely complex’ Auckland light rail project

So there is a call for a new business case ALREADY and we don’t have even our first one yet (the original one) given it is delayed. Speaking of delayed business cases.

Business case taking time.Last week http://www.interest.co.nz reported that the business case for the project still remains up in the air. The business case proposal was supposed to be delivered at the end of last year, but as of yet it hasn’t been made public. According to a spokesperson for the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA), which is leading the project, the business case is still a work in progress.

Treasury report shows tensions with the Minister of Transport Phil Twyford over ‘extremely complex’ Auckland light rail project

Okay so the Business Case was meant to be out the same time as I filed my OIA last year on which end CC2M would start. Given NZTA’s refusal to answer my OIA (thus spark an Ombudsman complaint) and the delay in the Business Case itself it might be time for NZTA to release everything they have for transparency sake with the New Zealand public. If nothing else it would prevent idle speculation that can harm a project while allowing outside help to unmuddle an apparently complex project such as Light Rail. And the case of Confidentiality in advice given to Ministers on impartiality grounds no longer flies given such advice has been mentioned as public record by Auckland Councillors last year. (See:
NZTA Have NOT Ruled Out Starting City Centre to Mangere Light Rail from Airport End First, Queen Street End won’t start until AFTER 2021 )

Northern Airport Line Layout: Source: Auckland Transport

“A well-developed business plan provides assurance that the project will not end up in failure. Business cases have been put together by Auckland Transport, but we consider that these should be updated to reflect a new procurer (NZTA); and the Government’s broader urban development objectives.

Treasury report shows tensions with the Minister of Transport Phil Twyford over ‘extremely complex’ Auckland light rail project

This is where I get nervous as NZTA is the project lead but is partnered with Auckland Transport and the Homes Land Community (HLC). The nervousness comes from the three acting as silos (common thing in New Zealand) and the tensions that result from it (or rather lack of communication). Easy way to fix it is create a special purpose entity like the CRLL and have that organisation as the one stop shop delivering both CC2M AND the urban renewal that follows it. It should in theory remove the silos of this SPE is given full jurisdiction powers over the other entities except the Planning Committee of Auckland Council and the Minister himself.

“This is one of the biggest projects New Zealand has seen and extremely complex, given that it is to be built through the middle of some of the busiest streets in Auckland. It entails digging up the streets to a considerable depth, causing major disruptions to traffic and to businesses.”

Treasury report shows tensions with the Minister of Transport Phil Twyford over ‘extremely complex’ Auckland light rail project

There have been calls to start CC2M at the Airport end and tie it into the Airport to Botany (A2B) Rapid Transit project as a demonstration line. The demonstration line would allow Light Rail to be built as First-of-its-class (a naval term) in an area with less complexity both engineering and political wise (that is Mangere and Manukau are both extremely receptive to Light Rail where as Dominion Road is creating hostilities). Building CC2M from the Airport end and going to Onehunga as Stage 1 as well as connecting it to A2B allows also for any engineering or urban “glitches” to be ironed out before the more complex Dominion Road and Queen Street stages are done. It also allows buy in from the public while giving two areas not connected to any form of rapid transit (Mangere and Airport-Manukau) a long awaited connection.

The overall Southern Rapid Transit Concept

More on that can be found here:

Northern Airport Line (Central Line) Accelerated? Auckland Transport Say Extremely Risky While CRL is being Built

We are doing the Airport Lines All Wrong. Start from the Airport not from the City Centres

Where to Place the Light Rail Depot for the Northern Airport Line?

Airport to Botany Rapid Transit Source: Auckland Transport

Twyford, Super Fund waiting.A spokesperson for Transport Minister Phil Twyford confirmed that he hadn’t received the business case for the Auckland light rail project. “Decisions around procurement are still being made by NZTA. They are making these decisions, not the minister, so you are best placed to keep in contact with them about this. They are also best placed to comment on the timing of the business case.” As reported last week, the New Zealand Superannuation Fund says it remains committed to its proposal to build and operate Auckland’s proposed light rail network with Canadian partner CDPQ Infra.

Treasury report shows tensions with the Minister of Transport Phil Twyford over ‘extremely complex’ Auckland light rail project

At least they are still there waiting in the wings.

I am wondering is City Centre to Mangere being more complex than it needs to be given alternative solutions that gives it a kick start are waiting in the wings ready to go. Also the nervousness around silos can not be discounted either given the delays in the business case (which is not always a good thing). Hopefully NZTA might be coaxed into an update on the Business Case sooner rather than later!

City Centre to Mangere Light Rail. Source: Auckland Transport
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One thought on “Treasury at Loggerheads with Transport Minister over City Centre to Mangere Light Rail Project. Opaqueness from NZTA does no favours

  1. Treasury briefed Grant Robertson on the issue, and have strongly pushed for “advanced buses” (trackless trams) to be considered in the business case. In fact it’s quite clear from their April 2018 briefing that advanced buses is their preferred choice.

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