9 Dec 2014

Len Brown faces City Rail reality check

5:22 am on 9 December 2014

Auckland's mayor Len Brown faces a political reality check today, as his council meets to delay budgeting for the big City Rail Link project.

An artist's impression of an underground station on the City Rail Link, which will be built under QE2 Square.

An artist's impression of an underground station on the City Rail Link, which will be built under QE2 Square. Photo: SUPPLIED

The Auditor-General has forced Mr Brown to back down from setting a budget for major works starting next year, and a three-year delay in the budget will add nearly $100 million to the cost.

The change is a helping of political humble pie for Len Brown, but in reality may delay by only one year the $2.5 billion project creating a rail loop through the CBD.

Auckland mayor Len Brown.

Auckland mayor Len Brown. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilsson

Len Brown had persuaded a majority of councillors to construct a 10-year Long Term Plan, committing to a full-scale start to the project next year - five years earlier than when the Government is prepared to share the cost.

The Auditor-General's review of the proposed Long Term Plan decided the council should not proceed with a budget assuming the Government could be persuaded to an earlier start.

Today councillors will re-jig the budget, moving the council's commitment to major works from a 2015/16 start, to 2018. The delay adds $97m to the cost because of inflation.

Mr Brown doesn't see the change as a political defeat, and says talks with the Government continue.

"The work that I have to do to achieve our outcomes as a city on behalf of ratepayers means that yes, sometimes I have to accept that I can't get everything I want, but if we're able to achieve 85 to 90 percent of what we're setting out to do, then that's pretty good."

On paper the delay is three years, but in reality it is likely to be just one year.

The council's 2015 budget commitment was part of a determined approach by the mayor to budge the Government from its agreement not to fund the project earlier than 2020.

Radio New Zealand understands that even if a cheque was written tomorrow, the project's own timeframe wouldn't allow a start to tunneling prior to 2017.

So-called "enabling works" are expected to begin in 2016, fully funded by the council. These include the first section of the 3.4km route near the Britomart Transport Centre, which involves a trench part-way up Albert Street.

The major works using a tunnel boring machine were always intended to follow the enabling works, which could take several years.

Today's exercise is a reminder to the mayor of the difference between political lobbying and the construction of a statutory 10-year budget.

Len Brown will continue to lead lobbying the Government to advance funding, arguing that several large commercial property projects will only proceed in co-ordination with the City Rail Link.

He won't disclose the state of negotiations on whether, how or when the Government might change its stance of not contributing before 2020, but believes change is still a possibility.

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