Former Cabinet Minister Judith Collins, now the National Opposition’s transport spokesperson, raised a scare this week that the new government would divert National Land Transport Fund money from major road projects to rail.
2 things she neglected to mention:
1, while the fund’s income comes largely (but not entirely) from road users, it has always referred to its “land transport” programme rather than to “roads”.
2, it will be a long time before the fund has any money to spend on anything. Its annual reports for the last 2 years disclose that the fund’s liabilities exceeded its assets by $497 million at June 2016, rising to a $528 million deficit at June 2017.
It had budgeted for a $40 million surplus at June 2017.
The fund’s 3 biggest spends in the last financial year were on the accelerated Auckland transport programme ($236 million), public-private partnerships (for highway development, $557 million) & Tauranga’s eastern link toll road ($107 million).
The fund’s income is derived from “all revenue from fuel excise duty, road user charges, motor vehicle registration & licensing fees, revenues from Crown appropriations, management of Crown land interest, and tolling”.
The fund uses this income to manage the funding of the road policing programme, the national land transport programme & activities such as transport planning.
The fund’s last annual report says: “The National Land Transport Fund has a negative general funds balance due to the programmes that were accelerated and current funding was sourced from the Crown. The funding received has been recognised as long-term payables, which are not due until 2-27 years from balance date.
“The fund has the option to slow down expenditure on the national land transport programme, or utilise the short-term borrowing facility of $250 million if required to meet obligations as they fall due in the short term.”
Auckland – a region where traffic grinds to a halt daily – has a serious, and growing, campaign to get more people to commute by rail, reducing road traffic, but it still has to work out how to handle freight much more efficiently.
The biggest proposal for improving freight movement, the East-West Link through Penrose & Onehunga, won consent from a board of inquiry in November, confirmed by its report & final decision on 21 December. But, by then, the incoming government had canned the project.
Collins on Labour’s “pet” obsession
Ms Collins said in a release on Monday the new government’s transport minister, Phil Twyford, “has confirmed the government is considering diverting taxes paid by motorists who want better roads to rail instead, while insisting to media this won’t happen.
“This is an important principle, adhered to by successive governments, ensuring the specific taxes paid by motorists are invested in newer, safer & better roads – helping keep New Zealanders connected & safe. Road users pay taxes which are directly returned to them.
“But this now appears under threat, because of the Labour Party’s obsession with light rail in Auckland. Mr Twyford has written to stakeholders saying a number of changes to the government policy statement (GPS) on land transport are being considered. Among the proposals is ‘exploring how rail investment is incorporated within the GPS & the National Land Transport Fund’.
“This is in spite of his office telling media last week that funding for road upgrades would not be redirected to rail.
“In his rush to erroneously claim that a number of roading projects aren’t under threat because of the Government’s obsession with Auckland rail, Mr Twyford has been saying different things to different people.
“This desperate grab for more taxes is the result of this free-spending government realising how much it’s going to cost to build its pet rail line from Auckland’s cbd to the airport – so it’s looking to divert funding from regional roads as a result.
“The National Land Transport Fund is paid for by road users to be invested in improving New Zealand’s roading network and it should remain that way. The Government needs to check its priorities and ensure the taxes paid by road users are invested back in the roads they are using.
“Last week, National launched a series of petitions aimed at saving those regional roads that the Government is looking to slash funding for. Given this duplicity from the Government, I want to again encourage everyone to sign the petitions to save our roads,” Ms Collins said.
Twyford signalled his intention
Mr Twyford wrote in a column for Contractor magazine last week: “To achieve our vision for transport, change is necessary. I am interested in how we can best use existing funding tools – like the National Land Transport Fund & the Government Policy Statement (GPS) – to support a more multi-modal approach.
“The traditional way in which we finance & fund infrastructure needs to change if we are going to address the multiple challenges of urban growth, replacing ageing assets, meeting higher environmental standards & improving resilience. We believe we need to be smarter about how we use the Government’s balance sheet.”
Mr Twyford wrote that the challenges of population & freight growth in the “golden triangle” of Auckland-Bay of Plenty-Waikato “will not be solved solely by investment in the roading network. All modes can be complementary to each other.
“For example, the Government is committed to implementing a rapid transit system for Auckland, which will include light rail from the cbd to the airport and to west Auckland. Such an investment will not only make it easier for people to get around town, but it will also free up our roading network to improve freight efficiency.”
The National petitions
National MPs began launching their petitions a fortnight ago.
Whangarei & Northland MPs Shane Reti & Matt King’s petition calls for the Auckland-Whangarei 4-lane “road of national significance” to proceed as the previous government planned it.
In Auckland’s eastern suburbs, MPs Jami-Lee Ross (Botany), Simeon Brown (Pakuranga) & Denise Lee (Maungakiekie) launched their petition to support the East-West Link.
They commented: “After a decade of planning & $50 million of investigative spending, you would expect that there was a clear direction on the project. This project has been through a fine-toothed procedural process like no other. It is supported by council, iwi, and has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency’s board of inquiry.
“The current gridlock is a major barrier to commerce. This is making it difficult for people getting access to their basic daily goods. It is quite literally the bread & butter of transport projects.”
Attribution: National Party releases, Contractor.