Key’s Encouraging Noises


Encouraging noises from prime minister John Key this afternoon for Auckland’s rail dreams.

In the wake of the landslide mandate for new mayor Len Brown to move forward on the CBD rail link and airport rail, Key has firmed up what he said earlier about working with Brown on such projects.

Questioned at his weekly post-Cainet news conference, the prime minister said the government will definitely work with the new council to improve the city’s transport systems.

And the government will contribute “its fair share” at the same time as exploring with the new council to see how ratepayers could also contribute.

This is much more definite - and encouraging - than the comments I heard him make yesterday at the Eden Park open day which were warm signals the two would merely work together well.

And it suggests that Key, which his clear antennae on not going against a public wave, realises he is going to have to grin (which he does a lot of in front of the public ) and bear it even though it will be clearly unpopular with both infrastructure minister Bill English and transport minister Steven Joyce.

SOOTHING NOISES: Key at Eden Park yesterday

This is far more conciliatory than Steven Joyce’s speech to an infrastructure conference in Auckland only weeks ago where he left no room for Auckland rail advocates to manoeuvre.

And later that day expanding his comments when interviewed on Radio NZ’s Checkpoint programme, Steven Joyce said he was making clear to the conference that Auckland infrastructure ideas like airport rail would not happen in his lifetime.

“There’s a responsibility to talk about what Auckland is likely to need and what central Government is likely to encourage over the next period. And what I’ve said is that we have a series of roading projects underway right now and the outstanding one is the third harbour crossing which will need to be done at some point, probably in the second half of the next 20 years.

“Then, there are some rail projects which central government are committed to – and the next one along is possibly a CBD rail tunnel and that’s definitely the most likely viable one of the lot.”

He said he couldn’t see other rail projects currently being talked about getting government funding in the next 10 years “and I doubt ratepayers would have the stomach for them them once they saw the cost, either.”

But he said that was for ratepayers to judge and he had warned Christchurch City Council it would have to fund its planned light rail project itself without government funding and the council understood that.

Only the day before, Infrastructure minister Bill English had dismissed the idea of a CBD loop as “horrendously expensive.”

Under Joyce’s and English’s scenarios, ratepayers would have to find most if not all the money for such ridiculous pet projects.

They are pouring money into motorways and think, especially as far as the airport is concerned, that the Manukau extensions will cater adequately for Auckland’s needs.

This afternoon, Key has at least raised the flag that money could be found for a government contribution which is a crucial step forward before Key and Brown meet on Thursday for more formal exploratory talks on it.

Brown has already said the council’s contribution could be found via either a public-private partnership or infrastructure bonds as he is trying to avoid rate increases in his first term.

Brown says he wants the CBD link construction started in three to seven years time and wants planning now for how to achieve an airport link for about 15 years time.

It’s not how the government saw this playing out, especially as their favoured mayoral candidate, Banksy, buckled and got on message and echoed what Joyce was saying.

Now it’s going to become disastrous if the government announces funding for Joyce’s favoured Puhoi highway but at the same time the government denies the overwhelming chorus from Auckland for rail projects.

That would come  just a year out from a parliamentary election and after the biggest city showed it can make up its own mind and do a left turn, opting for a combination of an independent-thinking and left-leaning local body leadership.

After successfully managing next year’s election campaign, Joyce is expecting a new Cabinet promotion, preferably that of finance minister so Key should hunt around now for a more public transport-friendlier advocate for transport minister, if such a person exists in the ranks and get him working with Brown.

In the end building more rail still fits into the government’s vision of having key infrastructure projects to keep the construction industry and lower-paid workforce in employment and to get Auckland looking more like a world-class city.

Just a pity for Bill and Steven that with their limited piggy bank, they’ll have to shuffle their priority list and move the Puhoi highway down.  That will hurt.




  1. rtc says:

    Let’s hope. Key still sounded like he wanted to trumpet projects they had nothing to do with such as double tracking (basically finished when th entered office) and electrification (which they merely didn’t cancel), he even claimed the government was funding Auckland’s trains (they always seem to forget the difference between a loan and actually paying for something). However, it’s a a major coup that we now have a situation where Key is having to defend the govts investment in rail at the opening of a rugby stadium. We have to thank Brown for that, there’s no way Banks would have gone out and attempted to put Key on the spot re. rail.

  2. Kurt says:

    Key is an enigma. If he sees it as what the public want then he may well back it at odds with Joyce. But it is because of the popular vote in Auckland and I agree Banks wouldn’t have gone near it.

    As for English’s horrendously expensive remark, so was bailing out his heartland rural mates in South Canterbury Finance but hey,we in Auckland had to suck it up didn’t we.

  3. Matt L says:

    The government have effectively created a monster and the door to its cage is now wide open and the monster wants to get free. I hope that the government starts to look at some alternatives for the Puhoi to Wellsford road (like the one the CBT proposed) that could free up some money.

    I imagine it wasn’t a very happy cabinet this morning but they only have themselves to blame.

  4. Jon C says:

    @ Matt L Nice description of the monster Matt.

  5. Roger says:

    Only the day before, Infrastructure minister Bill English had dismissed the idea of a CBD loop as “horrendously expensive.”

    Yes Minister, but so is the cost of relying on better motorways to solve our transport problems. Everything to do with infrastructure is expensive, stop whining and start being more positive about rail!

  6. James B says:

    Yes soon Wellington will hear us roar. I think part of the problem is that Auckland is considered as just one of 5 main centres, when we are actually bigger than the the next 4 combined.

  7. Joshua says:

    kurt - unfortunately I think key had to because of policies made under the Labour Government, in terms of fainace, however correct me if I’m wrong as a havent investigated.

    So far transport wise this government has been great in investing money, now is the time to continue the growth and balance out the system.

  8. Sacha says:

    You’re wrong again, Joshua, but don’t let that stop your uninformed cheerleading, will you.

  9. karl says:

    “In the end building more rail still fits into the government’s vision of having key infrastructure projects to keep the construction industry and lower-paid workforce in employment and to get Auckland looking more like a world-class city.”

    Of course it could - I don’t understand why people like the construction industry don’t just cheer the big projects no matter what. They logically shouldn’t have much of a preference, but apparently they do. Maybe because for rail, more external, overseas components are needed here, while we can do 100% of all motorway projects ?


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