JULIE ANNE GENTER: Can we fix Auckland in time to host the next America’s Cup?

30/06/2017

In four years’ time New Zealand, and likely Auckland, will host the next America’s Cup regatta. Personally, I can’t wait. But the question is, will Auckland be ready for it?

Auckland, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and it’s a delight to show off to visiting friends. But more recently that’s become a bit harder. The first experience visitors to Auckland now have is the traffic. The often hour-long journey along the motorway, bumper to bumper, into the city. It’s not the best introduction.

On Thursday I asked Simon Bridges, the Transport Minister, if he agreed we needed a new rail line from the airport to the city, in time for hosting the next America’s Cup. It seems, he did not. Instead he said he’d prioritise “protecting the route”, maybe for buses, maybe for rail with a completion date sometime in the future, likely 30 years away.

30 years away is obviously absurd. They way Team NZ designers are going they’ll probably be flying above the water by the time airport rail is built in Auckland.

Before I became a Member of Parliament, I was a transport planner in Auckland, so I know major transport projects don’t just happen overnight. But I also know that building a rail line by 2021 is not impossible. What it does require is political will and a single-minded focus on a vision for the city. I wonder who we could emulate there?

In the next four years Team New Zealand will enter into an arms race to build an even more sophisticated boat. They’ll amass an expert team of engineers, designers, accountants, architects, builders and athletes from all around the world, and they will have to outsmart and out fundraise the world’s billionaires in order to win.

If Team NZ can do this in four years, then I’ve no doubt we can also start building a rail line in that time, and that government can do a little better than just “protecting the route”.

The unfortunate reality is that a new rail line is being delayed, not because it’s too expensive, or too complex, but because priorities and funding is concentrated elsewhere. They’re concentrated on low-value projects like the $2 billion East-West Link in Onehunga or the $2 billion Warkworth to Wellsford motorway, both of which we now know will cost more than the benefits they will deliver. The problem that these motorways try to address could be fixed for a lot less money, and this would free up funding for critical rail projects.

Auckland is a world-class city, it is capable of hosting the next America’s Cup. Unfortunately, National is not a world-class government, nor does it appear capable of fixing increasingly chronic transport and housing problems in Auckland. We need a government that can show leadership, that can focus on a vision for Auckland that will create a more attractive and accessible city. But for this to happen we need a change of government.