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Wood: Government should drive funding

Wood: Government should drive funding, not councils

January 26, 2006

North Shore City Mayor George Wood says the Government should move out of neutral and drive a fair tolling policy for Auckland.

Mr Wood says ministers are dragging their feet on plugging the funding gap to address Auckland's transport woes. Opposition parties are coming up with nothing either, he adds.

The former chairman of the Auckland Mayoral Forum is at odds with his mayoral counterparts from around the region who believe that in the absence of Government direction, councils should push for the tolling of existing as well as new roads to raise revenue.

"Auckland deserves to be treated better than this," he says. "Our million-plus residents need more than a knee-jerk response from their local representatives in a desperate cash-grab that will have major social and economic consequences for them".

George Wood believes the people of North Shore City will not take tolling lying down.

"As a community we already pay more than enough through taxes and road charges to the Government.

"We're already asking more of our people to fund transport improvements through higher regional and local rates.

"The least we should do is ask them about tolling before further charges are imposed.

"The Government should treat us all fairly and on a level playing field."

Mr Wood points to the recent Coalition-sealing deal that saw Tauranga get a toll-free bridge as a pay-off to end what the ex-local MP called a Mexican standoff.

"The Bay of more than plenty got a Bauble Bridge while Auckland seems prepared to charge its own people even more to cross existing bridges and roads.

"Tolling may be one bridge too far for my people and I'm not going to stand by and watch toll booths appear without a fair and frank debate," he says.

North Shore City Council is on record as opposing the tolling of the Upper Harbour Highway, which links its city with western neighbour, Waitakere City. This bridge is one of several candidates for tolling.

In 2004, the former mayor of Auckland, John Banks, was driven across the Auckland Harbour Bridge one evening - toll-free - to tell North Shore City Council of his plan to return the tollbooths to that span in order to fund the proposed Eastern Highway and other roading projects around the region. That suggestion did not sit well with his audience.

George Wood is calling on the Government to emerge from its bunker and announce its intentions.

"It's been over two years now (December 2003) since they brought down their package for addressing Auckland's transport challenges. Back then, they said they would work further on tolling and other measures to plug the funding shortfall. To date, they have failed to say what they intend to do.

"There's been much work done looking into tolling and we need to hear about that.

"It's my own view that tolling won't be the cash-cow that my fellow mayors think it will, but let's have an informed debate before we lurch off saying we need to toll those roads for which our communities have already paid."


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