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Brownlee says its up to Len to sell assets for loop

Brownlee says its up to Len to sell Auckland City assets to fund rail loop. 

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee says Auckland Mayor Len Brown will have to consider selling Council assets to fund the central city rail loop. 

Speaking on TV3’s “The Nation”, Mr Brownlee said  selling the assets --- shares in the airport and port --- would inevitably have to be something considered a sthe business case for the loop advanced. 

But speaking on “The Nation” last May, Mr Brown said he would not agree to the sale of any assets. 

“That’s fine, that’s his position and I think he's entitled to go to the ratepayers in the coming election and say that,” said Mr Brownlee.

“Let's be clear he's got a right to stick to his policies, but as we come up to the point where we're looking at the business case which is about how it's funded and all the other aspects of it, he'll have to have some answers. “ 

Mr Brown has proposed that the rail loop could be funded by road tolls, or a congestion or a network charge. 

But Mr Brownlee said the Government would not agree to any charges being imposed on existing assets that had been funded by taxpayers. 

Mr Brownlee said the Council maintained it could build the loop without selling the assets. 

“ I think that’s a political decision that they have to make,” he said. 

“They're as committed to this as we are, they're actually committed to doing it sooner than we are. 

“So I would assume that they’ve got all that sorted out. 

 “I don’t think it would be fair to say that we are somehow trying to put a wedge in there that’s going to put pressure on Mayor Brown,” Mr Brownlee said.
Interviewed by RACHEL SMALLEY

Rachel Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee joins me live from Wellington, You’ve just heard what Len Brown has to say. He said he was proposing a network charge, a congestion charge, or tolls in order to pay for this. What would you prefer?

Gerry Brownlee – Transport Minister
Oh look we'll wait and see what the consensus group reports to the Auckland City Council next month I believe, and then see how they react to that report, what comes from that. In the end though what we've made clear is we don’t want Aucklanders paying twice effectively for the roads that currently exist. And the idea of saying well look we'll take the state owned assets and apply a local charge over them is one that we reject as well. But look as Len Brown said, there are lots of options that can be looked at over the years we've now got clearly in front of us in the planning stages of these projects.

Rachel Okay, so would you rule out tolls, and would you rule out the congestion charge? Would you rule both of those out?

Gerry Can I make one other point first which is that of the package that was released yesterday, it's the city rail link and the proposals around amity that the Auckland Council will part fund with the government. The other projects largely fall under the state highway programme and are not a burden on the Auckland ratepayer.

Rachel Okay, so can you rule out a congestion charge, can you rule out backing a toll as well?

Gerry Well tolls are something that you'd have to look at on a project by project basis, and we do anyway, so you’ve got yours northern gateway up past Albany and that’s a very successful operation, so tolls are not something that we are dyed in the wool opposed to, but I think some of the other charging we would be much less inclined to support.

Rachel So what's that, a congestion charge you would oppose?

Gerry Well I don’t know how that applies, a congestion charge. I mean one of the things that is interesting is that I understand that if you're developing apartments in Auckland you're still required to put in a fairly sizeable number of carparks, which doesn’t seem to me to be a way to encourage people to keep cars out of the central city, but we're not going to support charges on roads that taxpayers effectively and therefore Aucklanders as well, have already paid for.

Rachel John Key said on Thursday that Auckland should consider selling its assets in order to meet some of these costs. Should the Council consider that?

Gerry Well I think it's one of those things that’s inevitably going to be on the table. Remember that we've got a programme that is now set out for the next 10 years, and as we come up to the point where you're getting the business case together for the city rail link and that huge expense that’s involved in that, and recognise that you’ve got a 2016 Local Body Election as well, I'd be very surprised if it wasn't something that was considered by some people.

Rachel Well Len Brown says he won’t consider, it's not negotiable. He's staked his political career on it, so that’s a no brainer for him, he's not gonna move on that.

Gerry Well that’s fine, that’s his position and I think he's entitled to go to the ratepayers in the coming election and say that. He's already said that and let's be clear he's got a right to stick to his policies, but as we come up to the point where we're looking at the business case which is about how it's funded and all the other aspects of it, he'll have to have some answers. But look that’s his part of the project, not ours.

Rachel It's a standoff though that seems can't be resolved unless either the Mayor backs down or you back down?

Gerry Well I think that’s not a reasonable proposition at all, because what we've said is that we recognise that the rail link does need to be built. Len Brown would like to see it started in 2015. We've said look we think start looking at starting the business case in 2017 and with a start date which we are committed to at 2020, is much more reasonable. Remember that the Auckland plan justifies the rail link on the basis that they expect a 46% increase in the number of people working in the CBD and rail patronage to massively increase. So we've said let's be reasonable about that. We've said if we see a trend, and remembering that from next year you're going to have the new rolling stock on the lines, the electrification is reaching completion, and if we see the current 11 million passenger movement increase up towards 20 million, that would bring it forward. Also a 25% increase or half what they're predicting as workforce in Auckland would trigger an earlier decision of course.

Rachel We'll touch on that in a moment. You know that Len Brown can't deliver what the government's asking him to.

Gerry No, no that’s not true.

Rachel Well he can't, because you oppose tolls, he opposes selling state assets. You can't meet in the middle. Someone has to stand off. So you know is this a backhanded way of trying to essentially force him out of the mayoralty?

Gerry No, I think that’s a rather frantic expression of a situation that simply doesn’t exist. What we are saying is, we're committed to the rail link from 2020 as a start build. We've put some provisos out there saying look we recognise things could change, we think electrification and those new rolling stock will lift the number of people using the trains. So if all that starts to come in place, obviously from a government perspective we will want to see Auckland future proof, we'd move sooner. Now the funding is sitting on the other side.

Rachel But you can't fund that just with tolls which is what you support. They're never going to raise enough money just from tolls are they?

Gerry Well the tolls really aren't an issue around the rail link.

Rachel Can they build the rail link without selling their assets?

Gerry Well they are saying they can, and I think that’s a political decision that they have to make. They're as committed to this as we are, they're actually committed to doing it sooner than we are. So I would assume that they’ve got all that sorted out. Look I don’t think you know focusing on this is particularly productive. What we're trying to talk about here is New Zealand's largest city, the economic powerhouse of the whole nation, having a network system developed over the next 10 years that will see it able to experience comfortably the growth that we expect.

Rachel Well I'm trying to have a productive conversation here about how it's going to be paid for, which is surely the key question here.

Gerry Yeah well that’s a question, and what we have got is a situation where the government has said it will pay for a part of it. How much of it is yet to be decided, and Auckland have said they will pay for a part of it, and that is yet to be decided. I don’t think it would be fair to say that we are somehow trying to put a wedge in there that’s going to put pressure on Mayor Brown. That’s not what we're about. We've negotiated this over a long period of time. We've always said that we wanted more information, we want to be clear about the benefits and we've got there.

Rachel And I'm not sure you’ve always said it that way actually because I know you said you know why are you now willing for example to commit one million dollar a metre to a tunnel which back – in your own words last November in the House you said quote "it would do so very little". Now you're backing it.

Gerry Oh but it's part of a package and I think that’s the point that we've always wanted to make. So if you just do the rail loop or link on its own, it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference. In fact the predictions were that congestion would be no better by 2021 even if you built the rail link earlier. What you do need to have is the whole of the network, which is of course the roading projects which we have supported, and the extension of busways as well which – or bus usage I should say.

Rachel But it does seem a remarkable change of perspective, because you know back then when you said the tunnel's gonna do very little, you weren't saying then we need to see a big comprehensive plan for Auckland, you were just dismissing that.

Gerry Oh no that’s not right, that’s simply not right. If you're relying on a question in the House you’ve gotta remember what I'm dealing with.

Rachel I am and I can quote you Phil Twiser put it to you in the House and you said to him "I think you’ve gotta be very careful before you commit a million dollars a metre for a tunnel project that will do so little." That’s the verbatim quote.

Gerry That’s right, but it was in the context of our opponents being totally opposed to the roading projects that we're also seeing as part of that network solution. So you're taking a snapshot of a part of an entire debate without putting I think putting it in context.

Rachel The government's always been pretty clear that it didn’t support … Yes you are, but I'd like you to be honest, I'm putting it to you that you know the government has never really supported this at all, and then suddenly this week it is.

Gerry That is absolute rubbish.

Rachel You know have you stolen a march here on Labour and the Greens? Is this about an election issue? Is this about what is good for Auckland?

Gerry My predecessor agreed with the Auckland City Council that they should go ahead and protect the route by buying up some properties that would enable the rail loop. That is not a government opposed to the project. What we've always said is that we want to understand better what can be achieved for the movement of traffic in Auckland, the ease of getting around etc, in a network context, and that’s what we've done.

Rachel And is this about next year's election as well Mr Brownlee? If you look at a lot of the commentary around this weekend they're saying John Key's been very clever, he's stolen a march on the Labour/Green's policy heading into next year's election. It's a big issue, Auckland Transport, along with Housing, and in essence he's snuffed that out. Is this also really about next year's election and getting National back in government?

Gerry Well I don’t know what the Labour or Green policy is in a transport network sense. They’ve never said. We haven't seen this sort of commitment coming from them. What we do know is that they're very opposed to the roads of national significance, and they generally don’t like the idea that you put money into roads. But what we're saying is, if we are to achieve the benefits that could accrue from the rail loop, you do have to have the roading network equally able to take traffic movement in a smoother fashion.

Rachel Gerry Brownlee, Transport Minister, thank you for your time this morning.


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