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Mayor welcomes legislation, criticises ARC bailout

Mayor welcomes legislation, but criticises ARC 'bailout'

North Shore City's Mayor George Wood has welcomed the Auckland transport legislation introduced today as a step forward for the region but is critical of what he sees as a major financial bailout for the Auckland Regional Council (ARC) using money the region had earmarked for transport.

"I'm disappointed that 15 per cent of the significant Infrastructure Auckland assets and funding that were specifically for transport and stormwater projects - all vitally needed in our region - could now be diverted by the ARC for other general areas of its operation," says Mayor Wood.

He says that concern is doubled by the loose arrangements in the legislation for the governing of the new proposed Auckland Regional Holdings (ARH) body that will hold $1.2bn of regional assets and funding, taken over from Infrastructure Auckland, which will be disestablished from July 1, 2004.

"The legislation is pretty robust around the appointment for a business-like board for the new Auckland Regional Transport Authority, but the same robustness doesn't seem to apply to the Auckland Regional Holdings asset and funding body. There it appears members of the board could be politicians or council staff members. I can't see why we aren't applying the same strict process and criteria for appointing that board. After all, it will be managing the huge funding and assets for the region," says Mayor Wood.

"The Government is effectively offering the ARC a financial bailout. I don't see why any money from IA should go to help the ARC out of the hole it has dug for itself because of the way it has handled its rating issues over recent years. It has backtracked on its long term financial strategy and now the Government has given it this handout at the expense of much needed transport funding," he says.

Mayor Wood says the legislation allows the ARC to apply only a minimum of 85 per cent of the funds received from ARH for transport and stormwater purposes. The restriction in the use of ARH funds will be reviewed in 2008.

"It should have to spend 100 per cent of the funds on transport and stormwater. Why are we giving them the opportunity to not focus this funding where it belongs? We have massive stormwater and transport projects lining up for urgent implementation."

Mayor Wood says on a positive note he is pleased to see that the Government is going to appoint an establishment chairperson for the new regional transport body.

"We asked the Government for that and I congratulate them for listening. We need an independent person to drive this process and bring all the parties together to get this body up and running as soon as possible"

He says he is also pleased that the Government is sticking to its commitment on the delivery and timing of the new funding package for Auckland's transport.

"Originally the Government said we had to get all our regional policies updated before we could get any new money. It's now realised that would just delay things too much and we need the funding as soon as possible. We need more time to get our policies in line and the region will be fully committed to doing that as soon as we can - but we need the funding in advance of that process to ensure things can keep moving."

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