Thursday, April 25, 2024

Auckland Council faces off with Government over Eastern Busway

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Auckland Transport proposed $210 million of funds be used towards the Eastern Busway, pictured, $75 million towards electric trains and stabling and $75 million towards road corridor improvements.
  • Laura Kvigstad, Auckland Council reporter, funded by New Zealand on Air

Auckland Council is calling on the coalition Government to fund the Eastern Busway after pigeonholing what council can do with the remaining Regional Fuel Tax (RFT) funds.

At the council’s Transport and Infrastructure Committee on March 7, Auckland Transport (AT) presented its proposed plans for the remaining $360 million of funding from the RFT.

When the Government repealed the tax this month, it stipulated the remaining funds could only be spent on three of the categories: the Eastern Busway, electric trains and stabling, and road corridor improvements.

AT chief financial officer Mark Laing said there were originally 14 categories that funding could be spent on.

“Do we just look at reprioritising RFT funded projects or the entire capital program. Our strong preference is to do the second – we don’t want the funding to be the tail that wags the dog.”

AT proposed $210 million of funds be used toward the Eastern Busway, $75 million toward electric trains and stabling and $75 million toward road corridor improvements.

Cr Julie Fairey said the Eastern Busway was highly controversial and questioned why the bulk of the remaining funding was being put toward it.

“Electric trains and stabling make sense to me but the [Eastern Busway] deserves much more robust advice.”

AT chief executive officer Dean Kimpton said the contracts for the busway were already under way.

“If we stopped it today and did not start again the minimum cost of doing so would be $50 million,” Kimpton said.

He disagreed there was a lack of community support for the Eastern Busway.

“I know there is some contention with some individuals but to be honest I don’t think we’re reading the room at all well if we think there’s a lot of opposition to the Eastern Busway.

“If you want to call the bluff and say you are not going to support – then the outcome will be the outcome.”

Fairey put forward an amendment seeking Government to fully fund stages two and three of the Eastern Busway.

“Central Government is effectively telling us what we will and won’t prioritise in our own city,” Fairey said.

She said if the project was so important to the Government then it should pay for it.

“[This] gives us a chance to say back to Government, ‘actually Auckland Council, Auckland residents decide our own destiny’.”

Cr Shane Henderson said he felt frustrated and disempowered.

“We are being told what to do with what we have left. We are moving way too fast here.

“We have not even had a chance as a group of councillors to have a yarn about the implications of all of this until today. That’s pretty chilling,” Henderson said.

Cr Chris Darby said east Auckland was totally poverty stricken when it came to public transport.

“It is with some wry amusement that suddenly the Government has fallen in love with the Eastern Busway,” Darby said.

“We need to knock on the door of Government and say these are the consequences of your decision on the Regional Fuel Tax.

“More people will die and be seriously injured, fewer people will be taking public transport, [and] there will be endless congestion.”

Cr Daniel Newman said when Government took over the Mill Road project the result was disastrous and he didn’t want to see a repeat.

“I can absolutely understand people are unhappy about the changing landscape of politics and Parliament but the advice from the staff is this is not the project to step back from.”

Cr Josephine Bartley said she didn’t want to jeopardise the Eastern Busway in order to send a message to Government.

“I can also respect the position councillors are trying to take,” Bartley said.

Chair John Watson said no one should be surprised the RFT was repealed because it was a core campaign promise for the National Party.

“We have had to accept what a change in administration means,” Watson said.

Fairey’s amendment was passed with 11 votes in favour, six votes against and three abstentions.

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