30 Nov 2023

Auckland Light Rail: New government taking advice after stopping work on project

8:27 am on 30 November 2023
No caption

Auckland Light Rail is awaiting further guidance from the government. Photo: Supplied

The team behind Auckland Light Rail is still waiting to hear what comes next, after a stop work notice was issued for the multi-billion-dollar project.

The government has agreed to cancel Labour's light rail plans - but it is not clear what it will do instead.

Transport Minister Simeon Brown said he was "busy taking advice on these issues".

Labour's light rail plan had the potential to take up to 14,500 cars off the road but the price soared to $14.6 billion when it was decided to partly tunnel the rail line.

Documents shared with RNZ show volcanic rock was found to stretch 40 metres deep in some parts and Auckland mayor Wayne Brown said if it went ahead, it should be above ground.

Simeon Brown

Transport Minister Simeon Brown said he was taking advice on Auckland light rail. Photo: Nick Monro / RNZ

Auckland Light Rail is a Crown-owned entity. It spokesperson said they acknowledged expectations to stop work and were awaiting further guidance from the government.

They said the project team "welcomes any opportunity to respond to Auckland's transport challenges and work with the new government on their transport priorities for Auckland".

Auckland councillor Chris Darby was closely involved in Auckland Light Rail, as one of the project sponsor's, and said he was disappointed but accepting of the decision to stop the project.

"We just don't have the capacity to take on big mega projects. The government is quickly finding out that any capital for them to undertake projects is pretty scant."

Darby said replacing light rail plans with more buses was not the solution.

"We're at bus peak in the city centre. You can put all the buses down Dominion Road, Sandringham Road, through Onehunga, out through Māngere to the airport. There is no more room and that is one of the drivers for a rapid transit solution that is not bus dependent."

Dominion Road was considered for light rail's route to the airport - Sandringham Road got the nod instead, but the exact route and station locations were not released.

Dominion Road Business Association manager Gary Holmes said some form of mass transit was needed.

"It's not unexpected, certainly the new government has signalled that that was their intention," he said.

"If they don't proceed with the current light rail project, what replaces it? Our concern is that we're going to be stuck with the same situation we've had for the last 20 years which is a lot of different ideas but nothing concrete."

The city council had already stalled zoning on large blocks of land between the city and the airport in anticipation of light rail going ahead.

Auckland Council central area planning manager John Duguid said the council was also waiting to learn what the new government had in mind for the city's intensification rules.

Holmes said it had been waiting for certainty on zoning for far too long.

"Going up and having more intensive development is the key and in places like Dominion Road that's an obvious place for it to happen, so we're keen to see the rules clarified and that people have certainty over what they can do with their properties."

He said the association supported intensification in the area.

"We're keen to have conversations with the new government and with Auckland Transport about what happens next."

Light rail still an option

Auckland Transport chief executive Dean Kimpton said it would reprioritise projects, but light rail was still an option for the city - if above ground.

Auckland Transport chief executive Dean Kimpton.

Auckland Transport chief executive Dean Kimpton. Photo: Supplied / Mark Tantrum

"Cancelling it makes it very clear that that proposal and the urban development outcomes that were associated with it have now shifted," Kimpton said.

"We're working through what the effect of that would be on a broader approach across Auckland and what the priorities are."

Kimpton said light rail above ground was still an option.

"Surface light rail is always an option. We felt that surface light rail could deliver a significant amount of the benefit down that city centre to Manukau route and certainly out to the northwest route as well," he said.

"It is cheaper but you don't get the density outcomes with surface light rail that you get with metro or heavy rail."

One shift in focus is towards the northwest of the city, connecting the west to the city centre.

Auckland Transport integrated network planning head Andrew McGill said its new Western Express bus, which runs along a dedicated bus lane every 10 minutes between 7am and 7pm, was an example.

"It's high frequency, high capacity buses on bus lanes, limited stops, connecting people in a trip that's a lot faster than cars," he said.

"We should do a lot more of that because that delivers real benefits for a much lower cost and it means that we're not waiting decades for funding to be unlocked to deliver these massive projects."

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Simeon Brown said he would meet with the Auckland mayor in due course.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs