The Transport Minister is holding out hopes for Govt-backed cycleways and light rail, as he books meetings with the new leaders of major cities

Michael Wood says his first step with Auckland’s new mayor Wayne Brown will be to “sit down and have a good respectful dialogue”. 

Brown has made no secret of his distaste for the Auckland light rail project, something his predecessor Phil Goff described as “critical to Auckland’s future”. 

The project was Jacinda Ardern’s first campaign promise as the party’s new leader in 2017.  

Brown and Wood’s pair’s first sit down, which Wood hoped would be within the “next week or so”, will be interesting.  

During his campaign, transport was arguably top of Brown’s hit list. He repeated his desire for bus systems that linked to the traffic lights as well as frequently taking aim at Auckland Transport. 

He also lamented the lack of detail available to him on the CRL’s revised cost and timeline (something that has been promised by the end of the year). 

On the news of his win he heartily told supporters Wellington’s job “Is to listen to what Auckland wants, and to fund it, not to impose ideological schemes like billions of dollars on light rail”. 

Wood said regardless of people’s political backgrounds he would ensure communication lines remained open.  

“We’re elected as the government of the day, mayors are elected to represent the cities, you have to work together. And I’ve always found that with a bit of goodwill, you can get a lot done together.” 

“I think there is definitely an ongoing opportunity for good discussion and dialogue about how we take the project forward.”
– Michael Wood, on Auckland light rail

He said Brown wanted what was best for Auckland and he was looking forward to working together.  

“Light rail is obviously a really important government priority – a key part of the manifesto we campaigned on and the work is now well underway. But I’ll be keen to sit down and talk with him about how we can work together on that project, but also other projects that are important for him.  

“I know that he’s someone who wants the best for Auckland, and he is someone who wants to drive value out of the transport system and the projects we deliver… I think there’s a lot of common ground.” 

Wood is clear the project will happen, but says the work still to come on it can be discussed.  

“The Auckland light rail company is now established and is well underway, the detailed design contract has been let. Within that there is work that has to be done around how light rail will come together and how it will best meet urban needs.  

“And so I think there is definitely an ongoing opportunity for good discussion and dialogue about how we take the project forward.” 

In Wellington the opposite could be true and the minister could be in for a hurry-up from new mayor Tory Whanau. 

Whanau supports the massive rapid transport plan Let’s Get Wellington Moving in its entirety, telling Newsroom before the election she wanted it to go further and faster.

She also supports the Government’s Reshaping Streets policy which would make it easier for local councils to change the layout of the roads in an effort to promote public transport, walking and cycling.  

She also supports pedestrianising the city’s Golden Mile, even though this has been unpopular with businesses.  

In Christchurch Phil Mauger told Stuff he wanted to “soften” the council’s draft transport strategy and ditch part of a controversial cycleway on Harewood Rd. 

Aspects of the draft transport plan on the chopping block include congestion charging, road tolls and parking levies. 

Before election day Newsroom surveyed as many of the local government contenders we could contact.

The survey results showed transport was one of the major areas where local government ambitions did not quite reconcile with central government’s. 

Candidates ranked roads as just as important as public transport and both of these were ranked higher than cycling and walking.  

It became apparent that in the biggest cities of Auckland and Christchurch, in particular, the new mayors are ready to pull the handbrake on some low-carbon transport initiatives. 

It makes it all the more important for Wood to strike the right balance with the new councils as the Government seeks to achieve its goals set out in its emissions budgets.  

In May the country’s first Emissions Reduction Plan pinpointed transport as a major lever to meet these goals, and imagines a change in how people, especially in the bigger cities, get around. 

Nationally, the Government wants to reduce the total kilometres travelled by light vehicles by a fifth by 2035. But it will also set new targets for reducing light vehicle travel at the city level in Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch, Whangārei, Rotorua, New Plymouth, Napier, Hastings, Palmerston North, Nelson Tasman, Queenstown and Dunedin. 

The Government will fund councils to decarbonise buses, requiring that only electric buses be purchased from 2025. 

$1.3 billion was allocated through the Climate Emergency Response Fund for transport initiatives, but council buy-in is crucial for the plans to be a success. 

With local government’s swing to centre-right mayors and growing discontent in the regions that “Wellington” isn’t listening to what the rest of the country wants, Wood’s catch-ups in the next week or so, are all the more significant.  

Emma Hatton is a business reporter based in Wellington.

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