Mixed reactions to Auckland light rail announcement

6:23 am on 2 April 2021

The government's latest plan to get Auckland's light rail project back on track has received mixed reviews from some of those who will be affected by it.

Queen Street pedestrianised with light rail

An artist's rendition of Queen Street pedestrianised due to light rail. Photo: Jasmax NZ

Transport Minister Michael Wood announced on Wednesday plans to establish a new working group to come up with a business case for the project.

It will have six months to provide the government with information on a preferred route, as well as costings and funding options for the rapid transit system from the Auckland CBD to the Auckland International Airport.

According to Wood the working group will include representatives from the Ministry of Transport, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and Māori.

Wood admitted the Ministry of Transport's doomed twin track process, which involved competing bids from the NZTA and the NZ Super Fund-led NZ Infra proposal, was flawed.

"It shut Aucklanders out of the process," Wood said. "But today I'm drawing a line under it and including Auckland from the get go."

Karen Wilson is the chairperson of the Te Ākitai Waiohua Iwi Authority. As mana whenua the iwi has long standing historical ties to south Auckland and its Pukaki Marae is in Māngere.

"This is especially relevant to us because our marae is here and we've lived and worked here and our treaty settlement is in this area."

Wilson said the iwi authority was notified about the government's announcement on the Auckland light rail project, but she said it lacked detail on how it would and could be involved.

"The minister has reached out and I have no doubt the minister will look at these issues," she said. "But it's how he does it and it's more than just sending someone a letter and saying we are going to do this.

"I thought we would have received some more details on how we would be involved. So we will be watching with interest in how this rolls out."

The Manukau Urban Māori Authority is based in the heart of Māngere and chairman Bernie O'Donnell said the area has suffered from a lack of good public transport for a long time.

"We don't have a train station and the motorway was built to go straight past us to the airport," O'Donnell said. "So it will be interesting to see how the project helps the area.

"We're forever hopeful, but historically governments haven't seen Māngere as a priority."

O'Donnell said his concern is the improved access to public transport could speed up the gentrification process.

"Working class Māngere today might become middle class Māngere tomorrow," O'Donnell said. "I might be wrong because there is a lot of social housing being built in the area.

"But we will be watching closely. We want to make sure our communities are looked after."

In contrast, youth climate activists from Generation Zero welcomed the government's move to push ahead with a light rail link between the city centre and Auckland Airport.

But the group called for funds, currently earmarked for high-emissions roading projects, to be diverted to the project to accelerate its delivery.

Generation Zero is part of All Aboard Aotearoa, a coalition of climate change activists which last week applied for a judicial review of the Waka Kotahi NZTA-led Mill Rd project in the High Court in Wellington.

The group is claiming the decision to fund the south Auckland roading project isn't in keeping with the government's Zero Carbon Act.

"The news that light rail is back on track is both exciting and long-overdue. This project is key to creating a decarbonised, city-wide transit system sorely needed for Auckland to meet its climate obligations," spokesperson David Robertson said.

Transport Minister Michael Wood said a key factor behind the light rail project is giving people in places like Māngere and Mt Roskill high-quality public transport.

"I agree with Bernie that we don't want to see gentrification. The rejuvenation of Māngere should be led by the community and my expectation is government agencies will work alongside them," Wood said.

"This is just the beginning of engaging with iwi Māori, communities and stakeholders and I've committed to ongoing engagement. We've also made sure to include Māori representatives on the governance board to help build that partnership."

He said calls from Generation Zero to divert funds from existing roading projects to pay for it wasn't on the cards, but the working group will be expected to provide a number of funding and financing options.

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