Prime Minister John Key signals early start for Auckland City Rail Link
Prime Minister John Key has signalled a possible early start to the Auckland City Rail Link as part of a big rise in infrastructure spending, but he has stopped short of a firm promise.
In his State of the Nation speech in Auckland on Wednesday, Key said the Government was looking at bringing forward the start of Auckland's City Rail Link in combination with the council and was working to formalise funding commitment from 2020.
It had agreed to bring that date forward "providing the joint business plan with the council appropriately addresses project risks around costs, construction and operation," Associate Finance Minister Steven Joyce said in a statement accompanying the speech.
Key said central business district employment levels were still some way short of the 25 per cent growth threshold the Government had set for the link to go ahead. But rail patronage had grown strongly since 2013 and the trip threshold would be met well before 2020.
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"We see merit in starting the project sooner."
He said he was confident the issues to be worked out with the council - including the share of project costs - can be resolved.
Key said the Government would also streamline consent for Auckland's East-West motorway connection.
Meanwhile, Auckland mayor Len Brown welcomed the news that the government was formalising its commitment to the City Rail Link.
"Since the government announced its support for the CRL back in 2012, I have been asking the government to provide certainty over the funding. That is what we needed and that is what the government has delivered today.
"Today's guarantee of completion of the link in 2022 is excellent news," Brown said.
Brown added that the support would help Auckland cope with its growth, with the city growing at three per cent a year - or more than 800 people a week.
The council and the Government signed the Auckland Transport Alignment Project last August, agreeing objectives and targets for transport in the city.
"This is the next step in our collaboration," Brown said.
Away from Auckland, the two largest projects outlined in the speech will be in Taranaki, where modern by-passes will allow motorists to avoid Mount Messenger and the Awakino Tunnel.
Other undertakings include the Motu bridge on the East Coast and the Opawa Bridge in Blenheim.
All up, $115m will go to accelerating regional roading projects.
Key said $4.2 billion would be invested in transport in and around Auckland over the next three years.
In December, the Government announced it would lift capital spending over coming years after a call from Reserve Bank Governor Graeme Wheeler, who has indicated the central bank needs "mates" to help lift inflation back into its target band.
In his speech, Key said the Government would this year press ahead with the review of Child Youth and family, social housing reform, a strong focus in law and order and the view of the security and intelligence services as well as reassess the Emissions Trading Scheme.
But building a strong economy would remain "front and centre" of the agenda.
He also defended the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, saying it would help diversify the economy and improve access to 800 million customers in 11 countries.
"So it is really unthinkable that any responsible government would now walk away from the TPP," he said.
He said while dairy prices were low they would recover and he sensed a feeling of optimism among New Zealanders.
Responding to the speech, Labour leader Andrew Little accused the Prime Minister of being five years too late on his City Rail Link decision.
"Today's announcement will be a relief for Auckland's frustrated commuters who have endured years of clogged roads while the Government sat back and criticised this vital transport link.
"But it's typical of this Government that they had to be dragged kicking and screaming to get to this point," he said.
"John Key's failure of ambition has been holding back growth and prosperity in our biggest city for years. His lack of leadership in this area has cost jobs and strangled businesses."
Little questioned Key's vision, saying the speech featured "only a last-minute announcement of something the rest of New Zealand has been calling for for years".
"Where were the plans to fix rising unemployment, or our housing crisis? What did our Prime Minister have to say about rising inequality in New Zealand?"