“The light rail saga is proof we need to get politicians out of transport and infrastructure decision-making to get better long-term outcomes”, says ACT Transport spokesperson Simon Court.
“Politicians – left and right – have chosen where to build roads, bridges, and railway lines, based on political advantage rather than economic need, and changes of government every three years bring uncertainty and the risk that decisions will be reversed.
“I was a civil and environmental engineer for 25 years. I understand the transport pressures Auckland faces.
“The light rail process to date has been a disaster. We've spent four years trying to figure out how to make a political promise from Jacinda Ardern work. In the meantime, we've seen billions of dollars moved away from road building, projects cancelled, rescoped and deferred, fuel taxes increased, and regions neglected. New Zealanders deserve better.
“ACT is mode neutral – we’re not opposed to light rail in principle. But we are concerned about the process and what this project could do to Auckland.
“Auckland is staring down a decade of disruption. Questions need to be asked about whether we could be taking actions today at less cost to deliver light rail in the future. For example, options like investing in the bus network and repurposing it for light rail later could be reconsidered.
“The cheapest option for light rail is almost the cost of two years of all fuel taxes and road user charges in New Zealand. We need clarity around how it is going to be funded. Will New Zealanders face higher taxes, more debt, or the reprioritisation of other transport projects?
“How are we going to ensure regional balance? It isn’t good enough to allow billions to be raised from other regions to pay for a single project in Auckland, so how are we going to balance transport investment?
“ACT would take the politics out of transport and infrastructure and get central and local government working together through 30-year infrastructure partnerships, devolving revenue and responsibility to regional governments and the private sector, while strengthening accountability and oversight from central government.
“We need investment in high-quality infrastructure to boost jobs, wages and growth. But the current arrangements for delivering infrastructure are inadequate and politicised.
“At the heart of the problem is a separation between planning, which is done at a local level, and infrastructure funding, where central government has the overwhelming majority of revenue. Central government can afford, but can’t plan, infrastructure, and local government can plan, but has little revenue.
“The results can be seen in low productivity and wage growth and poor outcomes in housing and transport. We need greater certainty and consistency around infrastructure investment.
“The long-term nature of these plans will insulate infrastructure from political pressures. Infrastructure, with its very long time horizons, is unsuited to decision-making by politician beset by three-year tunnel vision. By setting plans decades in advance, we can avoid the on-again, off-again uncertainty created by the political cycle which deters councils and private infrastructure investors from undertaking ambitious projects.”