General Debate Speech on the Penlink Toll Road
Green Party co-leader
27 March 2002
Order Paper for today shows a local bill, Rodney District Council (Penlink Toll Road) empowering Bill, has been postponed for a month by the Member in charge, Dr Lockwood Smith. As the tenders for building that toll road close in the next few days I think it is important that the House, the public and any potential tenderers have some understanding of the reasons for this, and the views of the select committee.
The Bill was referred to the Local Government and Environment select committee which I chair. It empowers the Council to enter into a tender process to contract a private company to build, set tolls and police a 7 km road linking the Whangapoaraoa peninsula with SH 1 to Auckland. It would be the first private toll road in New Zealand and so creates a precedent that the committee felt needed to be looked at carefully. It passes through a peaceful rural community which opposes it, and crosses an ecologically fragile estuary.
The committee did look at it carefully and reported it back with a number of proposed amendments. However there were two things that disturbed the committee which are relevant to its withdrawal today.
The first is that we asked the Minister for the Government's view on the bill and were told the government had not yet reached a view and that officials of Ministry of Transport could advise the committee on the bill but would have no policy position to advocate.
The second was that towards the end of our consideration the Government's transport package was announced. It included the broad outline of a new transport strategy to be issued soon which is wider than the current roading strategy and focuses on alternatives to roading too. The Government also announced that legislation would be introduced to implement the Strategy and to allow for public -private partnerships for transport projects subject to some strict conditions.
The Penlink arguably does not meet these conditions, though until the legislation is in the House it is hard to be sure. On the fact of it, it does not meet the criteria of
* assisting in achieving the objectives of the Strategy * the assets to be operated at all times under public supervision * the project NOT to involve the transfer of the asset into majority private ownership * the project to have a high degree of support from the community through which it passes.
The majority of the committee felt that the bill would more properly be considered in parallel with the new transport legislation so we did not, for the sake of a few months, create a roading project that fell outside the criteria. We therefore agreed by majority to seek an extension to the reporting date for the bill so that this could occur.
Leave was denied by the business Committee because the decision was strongly opposed by National and Act. So the committee finished its work on the amendments and reported the bill back.
It had been my intention to move today that the House refer the bill, with our suggested amendments, to the Transport select committee so that it could be considered alongside the new transport legislation. It is still my intention to move that on 24 April when the bill is set down once again for its second reading. Council would be unwise to enter into any contracts until Parliament's decision is known.
The Penlink road does not have the unanimous support of the local community. The Council itself is not unanimous and while a majority of residents when polled by the council wanted a solution to congestion on highway one to Auckland they also strongly supported other ways of achieving this, such as better public transport.
Some two thirds of the submitters on the bill were opposed to it and various reports given to us in evidence cast real doubts on its viability.
Certainly figures on traffic growth show it has not kept pace with population growth, suggesting that much of the increased population of the Whangaparaoa are people who do not commute daily to Auckland. It would be unfortunate to build a road whose financial viability depended on planning measures to generate more traffic.
The compliance report commissioned by the Council (the Mitchell report) says the project's progress so far owes much to the force of "inertia" - - the build up of preliminary expenses to the point that it becomes to "costly" to abandon the project. They say "The enthusiasm for, and the growing inertia to complete the project has so far resulted in what can only be termed an emphasis by the schemes proponents on the positive aspects of the project." In other words the council has lost its objectivity.
There is also the question of whether all options have been properly investigated. The Mitchell report indicates that if Transfund subsidies are included the Do-It-Yourself council option would shorten the tolling period compared with that needed by a private operator by 16 years!