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Blog | The Black Gold: A Look Into New Zealand’s Fuel Resilience Among Shifting Global Winds. 

By Raphaël Rauner

As the Russo-Ukrainian conflict intensifies, the global geopolitical narrative is shifting. It impacts every actor on the world stage- from small to large. It also raises questions about New Zealand’s place in the world and our dependence on international partners. This article is not about foreign policy. It’s about New Zealand’s fuel resilience and future without an oil refinery. 

This fuel resilience issue arose in August 2021 when Refining NZ decided to close the Marsden Point Oil Refinery for cost reasons. The ensuing months saw the Cabinet’s refusal to intervene and keep the refinery operating (RNZ, 2021). The result were questions about our fuel resilience and energy security- since this policy deepens our dependency on partners in the Middle East and Australasia for refined fuels. 

A Glance at Our Current Fuel Infrastructure

Even as we shift toward green alternatives, the Black Gold runs everything- from transportation to the clothes on our backs. For the past 61 years, this substance has been discharged by large oil tankers at Marsden Point, a nook on Whangārei Harbour. There, crude oil becomes refined fuel: petrol, kerosene, and diesel. The refinery also supplements bitumen and farming fertilisers. 

The refined product makes its way to the local gas station through pipelines and other transit methods. A vital pitstop is the reserves at Wiri Terminal, South Auckland- an essential infrastructure for New Zealand’s fuel supply (sharechat.co.nz, 2022). These reserves contain around 64 million barrels- or one year’s worth of fuel at current consumption rates (Newsroom, 2022). However, some question whether this is enough?

That question continues to define the tug-of-war between the Government and energy security experts. On the one hand, the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment argued in a Cabinet paper titled Fuel Resilience without a Domestic Refinery that a ‘no fuel’ scenario is implausible and that a domestic refinery would not make a difference. Their reasoning is New Zealand’s existing dependence on crude oil imports- 30% of which is refined before arrival (NZ Herald, 2012). 

On the other side, energy security experts argue that global winds are shifting- underscored with the current conflict in Ukraine- and its impacts on the international fuel markets. Some say that international instability may disrupt our supply chain and force us to seek new partnerships (Newsroom, 2021). They also argue that the refinery is “one of the country’s most important tools for supply shortages”- A claim that Refining NZ denies by noting that New Zealand currently does not produce crude oil.

A Dependence on International Partners

Having assessed the domestic aspect of the fuel resilience issue, much of the concern lies on the international stage. Partners such as Russia, the Middle East, Singapore and South Korea build New Zealand’s intricate network of suppliers. 

New Zealand’s continued flow of the Black Gold is also supported by a series of carefully orchestrated institutions and bilateral agreements. The most renowned institution that safeguards New Zealand’s interests is the International Energy Alliance (IEA). The IEA gives fuel importing countries (like New Zealand) leverage over fuel prices and supply (iea.org, 2022). The IEA has also provided guidance over energy policy matters to countries; however, its role has been significant in ensuring continued supply since the 1973 Arab Oil Crisis (Samuelson, 2008).

In addition to strong IEA participation, the government has also entered bilateral agreements with the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Australia, and Japan to ensure supply in an emergency (Samuelson, 2008). However, fissures can emerge in our ties with these ‘allies’ as interests and relationships change. Changes in these relationships have arisen throughout recent years as New Zealand has pursued foreign policy stances that do not cohere with some of those partners; the most notable example was New Zealand’s decision not to participate in AUKUS. 

A Supply Vulnerable to Attack 

If there’s one lesson to be learnt, it is that bilateral ties do not safeguard New Zealand’s fuel supply from global instability. Several events in recent history are a testament to New Zealand’s precarious energy supply as global ‘shocks’ often impact Kiwi consumers within hours. The war in Ukraine is one clear example as its implications are felt strongly by Kiwi consumers, who are now paying record prices at the pump. However, these ‘shocks’ can happen suddenly, as the 2019 Saudi Oil Field Attacks underlined the vulnerability of the global fuel supply (NZ Herald, 2019). However, these attacks were short and sharp, as the Saudi Government restored total refining capacity within days. 

As these events show, the global geopolitical landscape’s unpredictability does raise questions about New Zealand’s fuel security, especially in the South China Sea and surrounding areas (Newsroom, 2019). These concerns align strongly with chokepoints in the global oil supply and the location of refineries that will now sustain New Zealand (Visual Capitalist, 2021). 

One relevant area of concern is the Strait of Malacca (in Southeast Asia), which sees 61% of the world’s oil supplies travel through the area before refining in Singapore. This area will now be more critical than before as our refined fuels will originate from Southeast Asian partners. It also means political changes in the region will have a strong bearing on how Kiwis will live their lives, significantly if choke points are compromised, and refining infrastructure is ever besieged. However, the Malacca Strait is only one choke point among many in world supply chains. 

Final Remarks 

While fuel resilience is a topic filled with complexity, the article discussed the precarity of Black Gold. The journey from the oil field to the pump is a long, complex, and difficult road. In these times, it is also heavily influenced by international politics and the relationships New Zealand fosters. However, we’re not alone. Disruptions impact everyone similarly, and recent events are a testament to this. Do we need to consider the future without a refinery and our increasing dependence on refined fuels from our overseas partners? Are we safe from geopolitical shifts? Do we need to increase our reserves? Should we foster new bilateral ties? 

Bibliography 

Blog | “New Zealand’s Moonshot”: The Road To Predator Free 2050

Written by Ethan McCormick 

In 2016 the John Key government announced that New Zealand would eradicate all rats, possums, and mustelids by 2050. It’s a goal of mind-boggling scale that was dubbed “New Zealand’s moon shot” by the late Sir Paul Callaghan [1]. Since the announcement, the mission of Predator Free 2050 has received support from a range of stakeholders. However, success hinges on a major breakthrough in pest eradication within the next thirty years. With the 2050 deadline fast approaching, will New Zealand achieve a world first?  

A Forgotten Past

Isolated for from the southern continents for 80 million years, New Zealand has developed a weird and wonderful array of biodiversity. Aside from a few small bats, our wildlife evolved in the absence of mammals. New Zealand was a land of birds, made famous by megafauna like the Moa and Haast’s Eagle. New Zealand was also the last country on earth to be settled by humans. The arrival of Māori saw many large species hunted to extinction. At the same time, Pacific Rats (Kiore) and Pacific Dogs (Kure) killed off several species. 

Yet by the time of Captain James Cook’s arrival in 1769, New Zealand was still one of the last pristine environments on earth. Botanist Joseph Banks described the birdsong as “the most melodious wild music I have ever heard, almost imitating small bells but with the most tuneable silver sound imaginable.” [2]

Cute and Fluffy Killing Machines

New Zealand has three major predators – rats, possums, and mustelids – together known as ‘the big three.’ The first major predators to arrive in New Zealand were the ship rat and Norway rat. Both species were stowaways aboard the ships of European explorers. Both species are similar by appearance but have a few important distinguishing features.

Dubbed the most successful species second only to humans, ship rats have colonised nearly every corner of the globe. Aided by their climbing ability, ship rats will devour the eggs and chicks of nesting birds. They are even known to consume small mother birds on the nest. Norway rats are larger by comparison and are limited to prey they can find on the ground. The key problem with rats is their rate of reproduction. Theoretically, a pair of norway rats could produce 1250 descendants in a single year under ideal conditions [3]. It is this rapid reproduction that allowed rats to decimate birdlife shortly after their arrival. 

While the introduction of rats was accidental, the arrival of possums and mustelids was a planned process. In 1837 the common brushtail possum was introduced from Australia to kickstart a fur trade. Instead, possums browsed on vegetation and decimated forest canopies across the country. Like rats, possums also eat eggs, chicks, and birds. 

Mustelids are a family of carnivorous animals that in New Zealand comprise ferrets, stoats, and weasels. Shipped to New Zealand to control rabbits (another introduced pest), it was only after extensive debate in Parliament that mustelid introductions were approved in 1881 [4]. Of the trio, stoats are the biggest killers, accounting for the decline of iconic New Zealand birds like the Kiwi, Takahe, and Kakapo.

Before introduced predators, Kakapo were so common that it was said you could shake a tree, and several would fall to the ground [5]. Currently, only 202 individuals remain. Furthermore, 41% of New Zealand’s endemic bird species are extinct [6]. Of those remaining, 73% are threatened. That’s not to mention the many amphibians, reptiles, and bats that have gone extinct alongside their feathered counterparts. 

Saving Paradise

The turning point came in 1963 with the ship rat invasion of Big South Cape Island. Located 1.5m southwest of Stewart Island, Big South Cape harboured the last populations of Stewart Island snipe, Stead’s bush wren, and greater short-tailed bat. Scientists watched as all three species went extinct before their eyes [7]. 

Since then, much has changed. New Zealand is now home to numerous predator-free islands and fenced mainland sanctuaries. Sanctuaries like Wellington’s Zealandia have witnessed astounding success. Birds like Kaka and Karearea have ventured beyond the fence line and can now be seen in surrounding suburbs. Predator Free 2050 hopes to do the same, but on a far grander scale. 

The project consists of three core organisations: Predator Free NZ, Predator Free 2050 Ltd, and The Department of Conservation (DOC). Predator Free NZ enables New Zealanders to get involved with the project on a grassroots level. Predator Free 2050 Ltd is the business arm that provides funding for key projects and scientific research. DOC acts as the project’s backbone and is responsible for protecting threatened species on public land. Alongside these three organisations are numerous other stakeholders which all play important roles. These include Forest & Bird, Save The Kiwi, MPI, Farmers, Iwi, and Regional Councils. 

Predator Free 2050 also has unanimous political support. Since its establishment in 2016 by the National Government, the project has experienced funding boosts under Labour. At present, all five political parties in Parliament support the project. 

Emerging Technologies

It is openly admitted that a major breakthrough will be needed for New Zealand to become Predator Free by 2050. Two important possible candidates for this breakthrough are gene drives and a new management technique dubbed ‘remove and protect.’ 

Gene drives are a type of genetic modification that increase the chances an organism will inherit a specific gene. The result is that all offspring in a population will eventually inherit a single desired trait. In theory, gene drives could be used to select the gender of any of the three target predators. For example, a gene that codes for only male offspring might be introduced to a population of rats. Eventually this gene would spread through the population until all rats were male and the population could no longer reproduce. 

In practice though, gene drives are not yet a feasible option. There are fears that a gene drive could be exported overseas and threaten rat populations in their natural ecosystems. However, as the science progresses, it is possible that gene drives will become a safer and more effective option to achieve Predator Free 2050 [8].   

A second promising option is an innovative management strategy called ‘remove and protect.’ Research institute Zero Invasive Predators (ZIP) developed the technique in 2020. ZIP has so far eradicated all possums, rats, and stoats from a 12,000-hectare block of Southland’s remote Perth River Valley. Astonishingly, reinvasion has been prevented all without the use of fences. 

Remove and protect first eradicates predators using aerial poison drops. To prevent reinvasion, features of the natural landscape are used as barriers – for example a mountain or fast flowing river. A combination of traps and AI cameras are then used to defend areas that are prone to reinvasion.  

With the Perth River Valley now predator free, the remove and protect approach is now being rolled out to 100,000 hectares of South Westland [9]. 

Hope at the End of the Tunnel

Predator Free is an audacious goal. It aims to achieve the impossible by shutting the lid on an ecological pandora’s box. However, with promising technology and a bit of Kiwi ingenuity, New Zealand may just be well on the way to achieving its moonshot. 

(To learn more about the people making Predator Free 2050 a reality, check out TVNZ’s documentary ‘Fight For The Wild’: https://www.tvnz.co.nz/logout).  

References

[1] https://tuiatetaiao.nz/about-us/timeline/

[2] https://teara.govt.nz/en/speech/10106/joseph-bankss-journal

[3] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4429886/Rats-produce-half-BILLION-descendants-three-years.html

[4] http://press-files.anu.edu.au/downloads/press/n2519/pdf/08_king.pdf

[5] Pers. Comm.  

[6] https://environment.govt.nz/assets/Publications/Files/ser-1997.pdf

[7] https://teara.govt.nz/en/land-birds-overview/page-4

[8] https://allianceforscience.cornell.edu/blog/2018/07/new-gene-drive-off-switch-assuage-fears-critics/

[9] https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/128165526/native-bird-species-bounce-back-as-predators-eradicated-in-westland

Blog | Attorney-General, David Parker, rejects Rotorua District Council Representative Arrangements Bill

Pictured above: David Parker, Attorney-General of New Zealand. 

By Emilie Paris Baldauf 

The Rotorua District Council Representative Arrangements Bill was drafted by the Rotorua Lakes Council and brought to Parliament by Rotorua-based Labour MP Tamati Coffey. It would grant 21,700 Māori roll voters three seats in the electorate, the same number of seats given to the 55,600 General roll voters [1]. The Bill’s purpose is to change the electoral rules for the district to provide the “Council’s ideal representation arrangement” for the Rotorua District [2]. This arrangement would allow the Māori roll and General roll to have an equal influence in electing councillors. Due to the Local Electoral Act, the number of seats in a Māori ward is currently restricted based on the population ratios for the District [1].

In his latest report, Attorney General David Parker deemed the Bill “discriminatory against non-Māori” [2]. A matter highlighted in the report is the disproportionately higher number of Māori ward council members than for the General ward relative to their population distribution. Parker notes that “as the disadvantaged group is those on the General roll, changing representation arrangements away from proportional representation, therefore, creates a disadvantage for non-Māori as they cannot in the future elect to change roles” [2].

As per the Attorney General’s report, below are the arrangements planned for in the Bill [2]:

• one general ward with three seats; 

• one Māori ward with three seats; 

• four seats elected at large; 

• one mayor elected at large; 

• a Rotorua Lakes Community Board; and 

• a Rotorua Rural Community Board.

In distinguishing between Māori and Non-Māori, the Bill would develop  electoral segregation. This is because those of Māori descent can choose if they would like to be enrolled in the General electorate roll or the Māori roll. However, people of non-Māori descent can only be registered on the General roll. Those enrolled in the Māori roll can only vote for the Māori seats, whereas those on the General roll can only vote for the General seats [3]. In his report, Parker concluded: “The Bill appears to limit the right to be free from discrimination affirmed in s19 of the Bill of Rights Act (“Everyone has the right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of discrimination in the Human Rights Act 1993”) [4] and cannot be justified” [2].

Currently, the Rotorua Lakes Council has decided to “pause” the implementation of the Bill. However, this may not mean the end of the Bill. According to the Rotorua mayor, Steve Chadwick, “this will allow council officers to work with legal advisors, parliamentary and government advisors, on strengthening the policy work of the local bill” before its implementation [5]. This begs the question, should people be divided based on their ethnicities? 


References:

[1]

https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2022/04/attorney-general-david-parker-deems-rotorua-council-s-proposed-m-ori-ward-restructure-discriminatory.html

[2]

https://www.parliament.nz/resource/en-NZ/PAP_122623/5d80125690667622a8d3c896fdb8beee9ff4b6da

[3]

https://www.nzherald.co.nz/rotorua-daily-post/news/rotorua-Māori-ward-local-bill-law-change-passes-first-reading/HC4T3F5PD54NDSDXREEBRUBZ4U/

[4]

https://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1990/0109/latest/whole.html

[5]

https://www.nzherald.co.nz/rotorua-daily-post/news/rotorua-lakes-council-to-pause-controversial-Māori-wards-bill/U744IYIWE7URWVUNLMJNQSMYUA/

Cover Image:

https://www.odt.co.nz/news/national/environment-minister-david-parker-tests-positive

Blog | Multiple Sides to Every Story: Revamping the New Zealand History Curriculum

By Simran Sonawalla

After three years in the making, Hon Chris Hipkins announces the release of Aotearoa New Zealand history curriculum, which will be compulsory in every school throughout years 1 to 10 [1]. The programme — officially known as Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories/Te Takanga o Te Wā — is part of the social sciences learning area of The New Zealand Curriculum, which will be taught in all schools and Kura from 2023 [2]. 

Announcing the new curriculum, Hon Chris Hipkins says that ‘All young people will understand key aspects of Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories and how they have influenced and shaped the nation’ [3]. Input from academics, teachers, historians, the New Zealand Council for Educational Research and the Royal Society Te Apārangi were all included in a broader overhaul of the national curriculum [5]. 

A Glance at the New History Curriculum

Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories/Te Takanga o Te Wā is centred around three elements — Understand, Know and Do — all weaved together within this new curriculum [4]. These three elements aim to provide an understanding of the events that have shaped the local and national contexts and encourage critical thought about how the past has shaped the present. [5]

Themes include the arrival of Māori, colonisation, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, He Whakaputanga (Declaration of Independence), and understanding New Zealand’s role in the Pacific and how immigration has shaped Aotearoa New Zealand’s cultural identity [4]. Furthermore, this new curriculum allows communities and schools to focus on their local contexts to understand how the historical contexts of the places students inhabit are shaped by people, events and exchanges important to their area [4]. 

Change Welcomed and Criticised 

Launching the Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories/Te Takanga o Te Wā has caused a lot of excitement within schools but mixed reactions amongst members of the Parliament. 

Many educators critiqued the existing history and social sciences curriculum as Eurocentric and insufficient with a limited focus on Aotearoa New Zealand’s pre-European histories [7]. Thus, the new curriculum was met with excitement and passion for engaging with Aotearoa New Zealand histories when piloted in some schools in 2021 [3]. 

Upon launching the curriculum earlier this year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says that this curriculum gives New Zealanders a ‘better understanding of another, through learning more about Māori, about the migrant history of Pasifika, and our Asian communities’ [6]. Furthermore, Associate Education Minister Kelvin Davis supports the Prime Minister saying, ‘the curriculum opened opportunities for children to learn about their own backyard, which many generations of Kiwis had been denied’ [7]. 

However, on the other side of the political spectrum, the decision to implement this curriculum did prove somewhat controversial. National Party Spokesperson for Education Paul Goldsmith raises concerns about the politicisation of the curriculum [3]. He argues that the focus on ‘exploring the same themes for 10 years is a recipe for boredom and disengagement. Māori history, colonisation and the effects of power in our country, year in year out, will elicit only groans by years 6 or 7 unless the teacher is a miracle worker’ [8]. In support of this, ACT Party’s education spokesperson Chris Baillie says ‘the curriculum divides history into villains and victims, contains significant gaps, and pushes a narrow set of highly political stories from our past’ [8]. 

What’s Next?

Implementing Aotearoa New Zealand history curriculum from 2023 is part of a more extensive overhaul of the New Zealand Curriculum [10]. These changes will be phased until 2025 to allow schools and Kura to implement this new curriculum [11]. The changes are in response to criticism of the current curriculum from many experts and educators who point out the incongruencies between what the New Zealand curriculum expected of children and what children could achieve [12]. Changing the curriculum aims to see students succeed in an inclusive environment [11]. Furthermore, it aims to teach concepts that are relevant nationally and globally while honouring the mutual obligations to Te Tiriti o Waitangi [11]. 

Closing Remarks 

While Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories/Te Takanga o Te Wā has been met with great excitement, it has also been met with much criticism. While many may enjoy learning about their own histories, it is important to consider what counts as history? What should that history be? And who gets to decide what is and is not history? 

References

[1] https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/political/463479/aotearoa-new-zealand-history-curriculum-launches 

[2] https://www.schoolnews.co.nz/2021/09/finalised-aotearoa-new-zealand-history-curriculum-nears/ 

[3] https://thespinoff.co.nz/live-updates/17-03-2022/schools-prepare-to-teach-refresh-nz-history-curriculum 

[4] https://aotearoahistories.education.govt.nz/content-overview 

[5] https://thespinoff.co.nz/society/18-03-2022/whats-in-the-new-new-zealand-history-curriculum 

[6] https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/463547/aotearoa-new-zealand-history-curriculum-sign-of-a-mature-society 

[7] https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/300543923/most-parties-celebrate-the-new-history-curriculum-but-act-criticises-it-as-divisive 

[8] https://www.national.org.nz/national-submits-on-new-zealand-history-curriculum 

[9] https://www.act.org.nz/history_curriculum_takes_us_backwards 

[10] https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/436183/government-announces-five-year-overhaul-of-school-curriculum 

[11] https://www.education.govt.nz/our-work/changes-in-education/curriculum-and-assessment-changes/curriculum-refresh/ 

[12] https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/435774/experts-urge-overhaul-of-school-system-following-falling-student-achievement 

Image #1: ​​https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/300543923/most-parties-celebrate-the-new-history-curriculum-but-act-criticises-it-as-divisive 

Blog | Everything You Need to Know About Auckland Light Rail

An artist’s depiction of light rail in Mt Roskill [1].

By Samuel Hill

After several years of talks about light rail coming to Auckland, the Government confirmed earlier this year that work will proceed on a partially-tunnelled light rail line extending from the CBD to Auckland Airport [1]. The project has been the subject of much debate and it is worth exploring the history and goals of the project to see how the current proposal has taken shape.

The Beginnings of Light Rail in Auckland

When people think about rail, the first thing that comes to mind is probably heavy rail – high speed trains on devoted rights-of-way (train tracks) [2]. Light rail systems sit somewhere between heavy rail and trams. They can run along streets like trams but feature train-like vehicles that allow for higher speeds and capacities [3]. Light rail was initially proposed for Auckland in 2015 by Auckland Transport (AT) as a replacement for buses along key arterial routes across central Auckland, such as Dominion Road and Manukau Road [4]. This was because bus volumes were projected to exceed the capacity of these routes in the near future, worsening the quality of these services [5]. Light rail was seen as a better alternative to buses on these routes due to having at least twice the capacity [6]. It was noted at the time that many of these routes were previously serviced by Auckland’s tram network that ran until the mid-1950s.

The scope of light rail in Auckland then expanded in 2016, when Auckland Transport determined that it was preferable to connect Auckland’s CBD to the airport via light rail, rather than heavy rail. Key to this decision was a benefit to cost ratio (BCR) showing that a light rail line was roughly three times better than a heavy rail line [7]. By 2017, Transport Minister Simon Bridges had signalled approval for light rail to Auckland Airport after Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) agreed with AT’s analysis, but warned that it could take up to thirty years. Meanwhile, newly appointed Labour leader Jacinda Ardern announced an election policy to build light rail to Mt Roskill within four years, and light rail to the airport and to West Auckland within a decade [8]. The CBD to Airport line would connect roughly ten percent of Auckland’s population [9] and was expected to encourage high density development along the corridor [10].

Light Rail Gets Derailed

Following the formation of a Labour-led coalition in 2017, NZTA took over the project from Auckland Transport [11]. Things became complicated in May 2018 when the Government received an unsolicited proposal from NZ Infra to design, build, and operate the light rail project. NZ Infra is an international consortium led by the New Zealand Superannuation Fund in partnership with CDPQ Infra, a subsidiary of the Canadian pension fund that was already developing Montreal’s light rail network [12]. The arrangement proposed was effectively a Public Private Partnership (PPP), meaning that the Government would be involved in the design of the project but most of the risk and financing would fall on NZ Infra [13]. PPP’s have previously been used for the Pūhoi to Warkworth motorway, as well as the much-delayed Transmission Gully motorway [14].

The proposal from NZ Infra led to Cabinet asking the Ministry of Transport to evaluate the NZTA proposal against the NZ Infra proposal and determine which delivery partner would be best. This was commonly referred to as a twin-track process [15]. By the time the twin-track process kicked off, there were rumours that NZ Infra were considering a new light rail design that involved tunnelling under Queen St, signalling a departure from the street-level light rail originally proposed by Auckland Transport [16]. These rumours were confirmed when Transport Minister Phil Twyford stated that street-level light rail was no longer being looked at. Instead, NZTA and NZ Infra were creating competing light metro plans. Light metro would be grade-separated, meaning it would run either in tunnels or above streets, rather than on streets. Twyford emphasised ‘speed, frequency and carrying capacity’ as important aspects of the system and cited the benefit of faster journey times between Queen St and Auckland Airport [17]. The Ministry of Transport recommended that NZ Infra was the preferred delivery partner and Cabinet met to discuss the recommendations. Ultimately, the process was halted in June of 2020 after Cabinet failed to reach an agreement. It was heavily suggested that Labour’s coalition partner NZ First were the main obstacle due to concerns over cost and the involvement of overseas investors [18].

Former Transport Minister Phil Twyford [2].

At this point, the light rail project was in an uncertain position. What started off as a solution to bus congestion along arterial roads had morphed into a significantly more expensive project, with a focus on getting people from the city centre to the airport as fast as possible. The process had also caused upset for many affected industries. Chief executive of the Association of Consulting Engineers, Paul Evans, even warned that it may stop firms from bidding for Government projects in the future [19]. Still, light rail remained in plans for Auckland’s transport network. As such, the Ministry of Transport and the Treasury were tasked with reporting back on the best way for the project to be delivered by the public sector after the 2020 general election [20].

Light Rail Gets Back on Track

Following the re-election of a Labour Government, Mt Roskill MP Michael Wood became the new Transport Minister. In March 2021, he announced the creation of an Establishment Unit that would draw expertise from a range of agencies such as Auckland Transport, Auckland Council, and Kāinga Ora. Wood acknowledged the problems with the previous twin-track process and wanted there to be a ‘strong focus on engagement’ with stakeholders and communities moving forward. The Establishment Unit, known as Auckland Light Rail Group (ALRG), was given a time frame of six months to develop an indicative business case that would allow decisions to be made on things like mode of transport, route, and delivery partner [21].

As this new process was kicking off, it was clear that the objectives of the project had largely shifted back to what they originally were. While the previous Transport Minister had put emphasis on the speed of the journey to the airport, ALRG’s website described the wide-reaching goals of the project such as reducing car dependency and bus congestion, reducing carbon emissions, and encouraging greater investment along the route [22].

Last October, ALRG released a summary of the indicative business case they had developed. This confirmed the need for light rail in Auckland and presented three options for Cabinet to consider, including a recommended option [23].

Light Rail, Tunnelled Light Rail, or Light Metro?

The cheapest option presented ($9.0 Bn), simply referred to as Light Rail, would run at street level along tracks embedded into the road but separated from traffic. This would connect the CBD to Mt Roskill via Dominion Rd and is the most similar to the original plans for light rail along the corridor. According to ALRG, this is the slowest option and offers the least development along the route. However, it is significantly cheaper than the other two options, offers better accessibility through providing more stops and being at street level, and would become carbon neutral the fastest [23]. The light rail option also had the backing of some urbanist advocate groups such as Women in Urbanism [24].

At the other end of the scale is Light Metro, sitting at a price tag of $16.3 Bn. Light metro is a rail-based mode and would be fully grade-separated, mostly travelling through tunnels. The proposed route is slightly different to light rail, most likely going under Sandringham Rd to access Kāinga Ora land near Wesley that will become housing. This is the fastest option due to its different vehicles, fewer stops, and grade separation – the other two options would feature sections on streets. These factors would allow for an estimated journey time of 36 minutes from Wynyard Quarter to the airport. Light metro also has the best long-term capacity but would take until approximately 2054 to become carbon neutral, the longest of the three options [23].

Then we arrive at the recommended option, Tunnelled Light Rail. This option can be seen as a hybrid of the other two options. It would involve tunnelling from the Wynyard Quarter to Mt Roskill under Sandringham Rd, before emerging above the ground and running along the surface through Mangere Town Centre on the way to the airport. The hybrid nature of this option also means that it ranks in the middle in terms of speed, capacity, carbon emissions reduction, and cost ($14.6 Bn). While all three options had similarly positive BCRs, tunnelled light rail was chosen for a number of given reasons. These included a similar urban uplift potential to light metro but at a lower cost, lower disruption during construction than light rail due to tunnelling, and better future connectivity to an assumed tunnel to the North Shore [23]. The Treasury took a different stance however, noting that in their review of the indicative business case that they did not consider the reasons listed to sufficiently support the choice of tunnelled light rail over surface running light rail [25].

The proposed route for each option [3].

The Government’s Preferred Route and the Future of the Project

As previously stated, Cabinet did in fact agree with the recommendation of ALRG over the preferred type of light rail, announcing their decision to pursue tunnelled light rail in January. Some of the benefits of the 24km line listed in the press release include the creation of 97,000 jobs and 66,000 extra homes by 2051 [1]. This announcement was met with some scepticism on both sides of the debate. Both the National and ACT Party were highly critical of the cost of the project, with ACT Party transport spokesperson Simon Court calling it ‘a disaster’ [26]. The Green Party supported the project, but still preferred a street-level option due to its greater accessibility and potential to reallocate road space away from cars [27]. Urbanist transport blog Greater Auckland, who have covered Auckland Light Rail in extensive detail, also expressed their disappointment over the chosen option after previously describing tunnelled light rail as the ‘worst of both worlds’ [28].

Tunnelled light rail [4].

The final choice on the delivery entity for the project is yet to be made, but ALRG has suggested either a new purpose-designed Schedule 4A company, or Waka Kotahi [23]. From here, it is expected that the detailed business case and consenting will take two to three years, after which construction will take six to eight years.

So, Aucklanders will have to wait until at least the start of next decade for light rail to come to their city. Even then there remains uncertainty over the project’s future, with the National Party promising to scrap light rail in Auckland should they win the 2023 election [29]. Will there be any twists in the tail of this project? What will the final route be and where will the stations be located? For now, there remain plenty of unanswered questions. However, given the price and scale of Auckland Light Rail, what we can be sure of is that it will remain a topic of public discourse for years to come.

References

[1] https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/building-and-shaping-city-future-proofing-auckland-transport-infrastructure

[2] https://policy.tti.tamu.edu/strategy/heavy-rail/#:~:text=Heavy%20rail%20

[3] https://railsystem.net/light-rail-transit/

[4] https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/regional/264302/auckland-moves-on-light-rail

[5] https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/65317005/len-brown-cool-on-light-rail-in-auckland-transport-plan

[6] https://at.govt.nz/media/1191335/Regional-Land-Transport-Plan-Adopted-Version-July-2015.pdf

[7] https://at.govt.nz/media/1866351/item-11-6-smart-preferred-way-forward-final.pdf

[8] https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/election/2017/08/labour-promises-light-rail-to-auckland-airport-within-a-decade.html

[9] https://www.greaterauckland.org.nz/2018/04/26/light-rail-not-really-airport/

[10] https://www.greaterauckland.org.nz/2017/03/24/nzta-support-light-rail-to-airport/

[11] https://www.newsroom.co.nz/2019/10/24/875033/aucklands-light-rail-decision-housing-or-transport

[12] https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/103750310/nz-super-fund-keen-to-build-and-operate-aucklands-light-rail

[13] https://infrastructurepipeline.org/project/auckland-light-rail

[14] https://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/wellington/127274853/transmission-gully-publicprivate-partnership-contract-was-wrong-call-transport-minister-says

[15] https://www.transport.govt.nz/area-of-interest/auckland/auckland-light-rail-project/#stageaccordionitem-830

[16] https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/trams-could-run-under-queen-st-as-part-of-aucklands-6-billion-light-rail-project/IUQVFL2NQ2SNE3U3WQ66CCUYKA/?c_id=1&objectid=12202106

[17] https://www.newsroom.co.nz/light-metro-not-light-rail

[18] https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/political/418821/auckland-light-rail-project-off-the-rails

[19] https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/116705422/light-rail-reality-the-six-power-point-slides-that-stopped-a-city

[20] https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/auckland-light-rail-process-ended

[21] https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/next-steps-auckland-light-rail-0

[22] https://www.lightrail.co.nz/light-rail/why-light-rail/

[23] https://www.lightrail.co.nz/media/yodpjmkd/alr-ibc-summary-independent-chairs-report.pdf

[24] https://www.womeninurban.org.nz/equitable-light-rail

[25] https://www.treasury.govt.nz/sites/default/files/2022-03/alr-4533296.pdf

[26] https://www.1news.co.nz/2022/01/27/act-national-hit-out-at-light-rails-wasted-spending/

[27] https://www.greens.org.nz/build_auckland_light_rail_benefit_everyone

[28] https://www.greaterauckland.org.nz/2022/02/01/sooo-tunnelled-light-rail/

[29] https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/aucklands-working-class-could-cop-1000-light-rail-tax-being-considered-by-government/ZPTQBA2YANQQLWA7TZ5BTZBXYY/


Images:

[1] https://nzrpg.co.nz/2018/05/10/full-speed-ahead-two-auckland-light-rail-lines/

[2] https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2020/06/government-spent-5-million-on-failed-auckland-light-rail-project-but-labour-intends-to-resuscitate-it-after-election.html

[3] https://www.newsroom.co.nz/govts-two-months-to-make-light-rail-call

[4] https://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/126832977/auckland-light-rail-preferred-tunnelling-option-met-with-scepticism