7 Dec 2023

Auckland Council, Wayne Brown reject plan for Waitematā harbour tunnel

4:45 pm on 7 December 2023
Auckland's Harbour Bridge during the Covid-19 alert level four lockdown.

Auckland has debated plans for another harbour crossing. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Auckland Council's Transport and Infrastructure Committee has decided not to support the current $56 billion plan for a secondary harbour crossing.

During today's meeting the council's Principal Transport Advisor Elise Webster highlighted problems with the draft business case for the Waitematā Harbour Connections project, which is due to be presented to the NZTA Waka Kotahi board in February next year.

The "preferred option" listed in the Indicative Business Case involved two underwater tunnels, one for traffic and one for light rail, to run alongside the Harbour Bridge.

"Staff have identified a number of issues... these relate, in particular, to the affordability and value for money issue," Webster said.

"At $56b it is equivalent to more than double the government's total 10-year investment in Auckland's transport system."

Webster asked members of the committee to clearly oppose the plan.

"Council staff are recommending that the committee does not support the recommended option," she said.

Mayor Wayne Brown immediately accepted Webster's advice.

"I totally support your recommendation, and I'll be horrified if we don't [all] support this," he said.

"With the size of our economy, it's a wonder that grown up people who can feed themselves and walk could come up with such a stupid number."

He said there was no possible way the $56b plan would survive a cost-benefit analysis.

"I'm shocked that it hasn't been dumped by the [new] government."

Acting committee chairperson Christine Fletcher told Checkpoint the council simply could not agree with the plan's cost and the lack of consultation with local government.

Former Labour Prime Minister Chris Hipkins introduced the proposal in August.

"I think Auckland Council felt really disrespected in that they had had no involvement really, until just before the election the (former) government came and wanted our support for their proposal.

"It was a little bit rich to come and dump such a massive plan on us and expect some form of support."

Fletcher said that the council has been focused on developing the Auckland Integrated Transport Plan and the tunnel plan had no real link to that.

She said the tunnel plan did not make its own case well enough for the council to support it.

"It was the lack of a problem definition … what was the purpose? It was very unclear to us."

"This had just got a head of steam, was ridiculously costly and right now for Auckland Council, we are really struggling financially."

The high cost "just seemed scandalous," Fletcher said.

There is a real appetite for another harbour crossing, she agreed, but nothing on the scale that this plan cost.

North Shore Councillor Chris Darby jumped at the opportunity to second Brown's movement to accept Webster's recommendations.

"$56b is an enormous number... the benefits are really struggling to outweigh the costs on this project as it currently sits," he said.

"[The road tunnel is] 10 general traffic lanes, that is not a climate future solution. That belongs in a different century."

He said the money would be better spent elsewhere.

"I just cannot imagine ten traffic lanes crossing over, under, around the harbour. I can envisage active connections for pedestrians and cyclists, and rapid transit... that's the future that I see."

Darby said he looked forward to seeing lower-cost alternatives to the tunnels.

The committee almost unanimously agreed to accept Webster's recommendations, aside from IMSB Member Billy Brown who abstained due to a previously declared conflict of interest.

The new local government minister said his party will work closely with Auckland Council to deliver the infrastructure the city needs.

Brown has been vocal about having more autonomy to meet the needs of the city.

He released his manifesto for Auckland earlier in the year, saying he and his councillors can not make the fixes needed for Auckland unless Wellington moves out of the way.

Local Government Minister Simeon Brown said he and the mayor would meet on a regular basis, and stay in touch on important issues.

Brown told Checkpoint tonight the numbers did not add up with the tunnel project.

"The reality with this plan the government put forward, $56b, it was unfunded."

Brown said the new government agreed there was still a need for a second harbour crossing.

"What we've said consistently for a number of years is that resilience for that corridor is the top priority.

"The bridge is ageing, we're seeing the effects when it's windy."

Luxon has said previously before the election that his government would have a preference for a tunnel crossing, but Brown said it is currently seeking advice from the Ministry of Transport and NZTA on options.

"We're currently in the process of doing that.

"This is a big piece of work, there is obviously need for decisions to be made but also the other part of the puzzle is… the reality is the Crown can't afford to pay for all of the infrastructure in New Zealand and the infrastructure deficit that we do have."

Brown said the government is looking at other funding models and setting up a national infrastructure agency to attract finance to projects.

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