CEO update: A message from Viv on the City Rail Link project
The city centre’s transformation brings with it some challenges. I wrote a column in the New Zealand Herald late last month addressing some of this, but I also wanted to update you directly, particularly in regards to the City Rail Link project.
City Rail Link is a transformational project that will change the way Aucklanders and visitors move around our city. However, a project of this scale and duration is tough on businesses and delays have made it tougher. We recently re-raised concerns with Auckland Council and City Rail Link Ltd (CRLL) and steps are now being put in place to improve the way disruption is being managed.
Earlier this month I presented to Auckland Council’s Governing Body as they began a six hour debate before approving $500m of additional expenditure, which will enable contracts to be confirmed for the next stage of works and avoid further delays. Assurance was given that the tendered costs are fair due to current market conditions and the decision last year to future proof the design to increase capacity. As with other large projects of this nature, there are some ongoing risks.
One of the risks we identified when the increased costs were announced was an intention to sell or lease Auckland Transport’s carpark buildings. Given the aspirations to further pedestrianise the city centre, carpark buildings that offer affordable, short stay parking are strategically vital if on-street parking spaces are to be reallocated for pedestrian use. Selling off these carpark buildings now would be premature and undermine Council's own strategy to develop a people focused city centre. Parking buildings are also needed for other uses to help support growth, which could include innovation in servicing and loading, as well as opportunities for bike parking, electric vehicle charging etc.
We advocated to retain the buildings at least in the medium term. Council listened to concerns raised and the plan changed from implement to investigate future off-street parking requirements. During the Governing Body debate, sale was removed as an option, which means that once the future needs are assessed, options may include retaining the status quo, partnering with developers and concession arrangements, but not outright sale.
We also highlighted ongoing risk with cost and CRLL agreed that in future they will provide more effective reporting to Council on how the project is progressing and potential risks. Work will also progress with the Crown to confirm who will own the CRL when it’s completed and therefore meet future maintenance and servicing costs. It was a surprise to find this hasn’t been done - surely that is the role of central Government - but we’ll watch this space closely on behalf of city centre ratepayers.
We were disappointed too that provision had not been made to assess the viability of other funding models for this project as the potential for increased cost has been in the wind for some time. It’s not a great position to be in to find half a billion dollars in a couple of weeks (and you could ask why some of the ideas hadn’t been found before). However, there was some good news that provision for the long talked about Special Purpose Vehicles may not be that far away.
I left the Council’s Governing Body meeting feeling reassured that although there are still areas for improvement, our concerns are being heard and taken on board.
While this kind of advocacy work is not as visible as our destination marketing campaigns and advertising, it is important. I hope it’s a good insight into what goes on behind the scenes to try and achieve good outcomes for business as the city centre transforms.