4 Nov 2020

Michael Wood: Auckland 'will choke on its growth' without light rail

6:52 am on 4 November 2020

Incoming Transport Minister Michael Wood isn't promising shovels in the ground on Auckland's light rail by the end of this political term.

An artist's visualisation for Auckland Transport of light rail in Balmoral.

An artist's visualisation for Auckland Transport of light rail in Balmoral. Photo: Supplied / Auckland Transport

The project, one of Labour's flagship promises in 2017, came to a screeching halt because New Zealand First refused to support it.

Michael Wood is adamant the city needs the project and wants to keep it moving.

"We have about 400,000 Aucklanders living in a corridor down the middle of the city who currently don't have access to modern, high-quality, high-frequency public transport.

"If we don't fix that, our city is going to choke on its growth," Wood said.

It will be his job to get light rail from the city to the airport back on track.

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Michael Wood. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Labour promised in 2017 to have built the multi-billion dollar project by 2021 but Wood's predecessor Phil Twyford failed to get shovels in the ground.

Then coalition partner, New Zealand First, blocked the project because of its cost and scale.

Wood insisted he is taking on the project with an open mind.

"We're talking about an asset that will require several billion dollars of public investment, it's an asset that will shape Auckland for 50 to 100 years, so I want to get all of the information before me, I want to hear all of the arguments and I want to be able to make a good decision on the basis of those," he said.

Wood said he is committed to light rail and wants it built for Auckland, but appeared to have learnt from his party's mistake of over-promising and under-delivering.

"I'm two days into my appointment, I haven't even been sworn in as minister at this point, I haven't had any official reports in front of me so I'm not going to set artificial timeframes, I think that would be a mistake to make."

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff thought it was wise of Wood not to put a deadline on the project yet.

"From my own experience I know that it's really important that an incoming minister is fully briefed before he starts making commitments."

Commitment or not, Goff is confident progress will be made this term.

"Not having the handbrake that New Zealand First applied means that we can look forward, I think, to better progress on light rail through the isthmus, and I hope that happens."

ACT leader David Seymour said given Labour's track-record, Wood's reluctance to set a deadline was no great surprise.

"The lack of dates being offered this time shows that at least they're becoming a bit more realistic about their own abilities. But let's be honest, this is a government that was re-elected in a crisis in which it marketed itself exceedingly well."

But Seymour said he has some sympathy for the government, because the regulatory framework makes projects like this so difficult.

National's Transport spokesperson Chris Bishop was less forgiving.

"All the best to Michael Wood and congratulations to him on being appointed transport minister. He's inherited, sadly, a basket-case left to him by Phil Twyford, I don't take any joy in saying that."

The Ministry of Transport will soon be meeting with the new minister to present ways to take the project forward.

Wood said he will then consider the options carefully before taking anything to Cabinet.

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