The government is going back to the drawing board on Auckland Light Rail.
Transport Minister Michael Wood has announced the establishment of a unit tasked with getting Auckland light rail back on track.
"Today's announcement marks a fresh start on the project for Tamaki Makaurau."
The project, one of Labour's flagship promises in 2017, came to a screeching halt because New Zealand First refused to support it.
"We had partners in government who fundamentally didn't agree on this project, that did make very different to progress in that term of government," Wood said.
He said the previous process did not involve Aucklanders enough, leaving them feeling shut out. He said the government received a letter last about the matter from disparate groups including the EMA, Bike Auckland, Greater Auckland, Generation Zero, and Heart of the City.
"All of whom said that they supported the concept of mass transit but wanted to have their say on the project and for the government to do a better job of involving communities and stakeholders. That is what we will now do."
The new "Establishment Unit" has been given six months to gather information regarding mode and route, providing cost estimates, and funding and financing options which includes looking at value capture.
Wood said once the government receives the advice at the end of the year, it would then make key decisions on route, mode, and delivery entity, and provide information to the public regarding issues like cost and timeframes.
Waka Kotahi would not be the agency to deliver the light rail project, he said. Instead, it would be either the current City Rail Link organisation or a new public-private partnership.
"I know some would have liked me to announce a shovel-ready project today, but I also want to be absolutely certain that the plan we move forward with is the right one.
"That's why this fresh start that involves working alongside Aucklanders on the city-shaping project is so important."
He said it would be the most significant city-shaping project since the Harbour Bridge was built.
"Our vision for Auckland is to create a vibrant connected city that's easier, cleaner and safer to get around - light rail will help make that happen. The city centre to Māngere line will be a backbone that eventually will link with the North and North-west, forming a rapid transit network that fully integrates with other forms of transport across the city," he said.
The unit will have a six month work programme:
- Partnering with Māori
- Engaging with stakeholders and communities
- Developing a business case so evidence-based decisions can be made on mode and route, providing cost estimates, and funding and financing options which includes looking at value capture
- Determining the best form for the delivery entity, which will be either City Rail Link Limited or a new joint venture with Auckland Council
In a statement, National Party's spokesperson for transport Michael Woodhouse said the project was starting to look stale, after $15m was spent on a business case for three years.
He labelled today's announcement as "ridiculous", and said it showed the government was "big on talk but useless on delivery".
"After four years there is still no business case. No funding. No route. No idea of who will build the project or how they will build the project. No consents. No engagement. Nothing.
"The government has wasted millions of dollars and four years while Aucklanders have been taxed an extra 10 cents at the petrol pump to pay for the project."
Woodhouse said putting the blame on NZ First's refusal to support the project ignored that the party had been supportive up until disagreement over the preferred delivery partner.
He said the government was misguided on Aucklanders' needs and the regional fuel tax wasn't paying off for them.
"What Aucklanders desperately need in investment [is] a second harbour crossing but the government can't see this."
Wood previously said that without investment in mass transit "Auckland will choke on its own growth".
Today, he repeated those comments, saying Auckland's transport system was not currently up to the job.
"Light rail will support growth in Māngere, Ōnehunga, and Mount Roskill in particular, connecting these communities and giving people the option to leave the car at home, which will help reduce congestion and emissions," he said in a statement.
The unit will have an independent chair who Wood said would be announced in the coming weeks, as well as local government, key agency, community and Māori representatives.
Wood said it was also critical that the Auckland Council be involved so he would be working with Auckland's mayor and deputy mayor.
Green Party transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter said while it was disappointing there was no "shovel-ready project" announcement today, light rail was complex and took a significant amount of time to get under way.
"Auckland has demonstrated that when government invests in fast, frequent public transport, people flock to it.
"Light rail from the city centre to Māngere will unlock new housing and jobs, and give Aucklanders better options for getting around the city, while taking cars off the city's congested roads," she said.
The unit will be housed within Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and be a collaboration between central and local government drawing on expertise from a range of other agencies.
RNZ reported last month the government had been considering whether to create a new public agency to deliver the project.
Transport officials last year were warning that the major project was too big and too complex for any existing public agency to deliver.
At the time, Wood said the government was considering that advice and what the best option was.