While local politicians on both sides of the political divide are cautiously supporting the idea of fast-tracking Penlink with an overseas investor, they agree it is too early to pop the champagne corks.
The NZ Transport Agency has confirmed it has received an unsolicited bid from a Chinese company to build Penlink – a 7km road connecting Whangaparaoa Peninsula with State Highway 1. The proposal is for a four-lane toll road.
Auckland Business Chamber’s chief executive Michael Barnett is quoted as saying the company is willing to foot most of the $400 million cost of the road as a BOOT (build, own, operate, transfer).
The news came as no surprise to Rodney MP Mark Mitchell.
He says the company approached him three or four months ago, and he introduced them to the appropriate Government representatives.
He says they are a company experienced in delivering big infrastructure projects, but he is uncomfortable with the idea of getting people’s hopes up before the bid has gone through due diligence.
“We’ve had enough of Penlink being a political tool,” he says.
“The Government needs to get on with a proper investigation, which shouldn’t take more than six months. If it stacks up, it’s a level playing field and taxpayers interests are delivered, then I have no problems with getting Penlink built with a PPP (Public Private Partnership).”
Long-time Penlink Now campaigner and Hibiscus and Bays Local Board member Janet Fitzgerald has welcomed the news of the bid.
“If successful, this will bring Penlink forward by a considerable amount of time – at least 10 years,” Ms Fitzgerald says. “The benefits for the Hibiscus Coast community are huge.
“It would also be a four lane tolled road instead of the two lane tolled road currently planned. Penlink has overwhelming public support and the Local Board has advocated strongly for it over many years. Now is the time to consider this bid seriously, work through all the details and then if everything stacks up, get on and build it.”
Auckland Councillor John Watson says he hopes that it is a serious offer.
“It would be great to see the construction timeline brought forward from the 2025 start previously signaled,” he says.
“As it stands, Council is already looking at how that date might be brought forward given that Penlink is consented and ready to go. If a private entity was able to fast-track this process I’m sure it would meet with a lot of public support.”
Cr Watson says the one assurance he would be seeking was over the toll price, which in his view should sit around $2.
“As a councillor I have taken other international proposals to Auckland Transport but they have invariably failed to progress, usually as a result of a closer examination of the financials. If the company is Chinese and partners with NZ contractors providing local employment I see no issues given that they would be subject to the same regulations and oversight as anyone else.
“If the project includes another park and ride and pedestrian/cycle links then this would tie in with the planned Northern Busway extension to Silverdale and secure our area’s long term transport needs.”
Cr Wayne Walker says the pressing need is to get a practical Penlink project to start and two lanes are more than adequate especially when considering that Whangaparaoa Road itself will be less congested with Penlink.
“It would be great to have it done ahead of time, but it is very difficult to comment further with so little to go on,” he says.
“The problem with a bigger budget project is that the liability still sits on Council’s books and pushes us over our debt limits – it’s much easier to get a lower budget project over the line. We need to keep that in focus.”
Cr Walker says there have been issues with Chinese steel that are a concern and he believes that NZTA has a preference for the involvement of NZ companies with a track record of delivering on these types of projects.
“Of immediate concern is the need for more ferry services at Gulf Harbour, including on the weekend, using the Public Works Act to have full Council control over the Hammerhead, making the Park and Ride at Silverdale fully operational, completing the Curley Ave/East Coast Road connection, sorting the Tavern Road/East Coast Road intersection, fixing the Whangaparaoa New World entry and exit onto Whangaparaoa ... to name a few quick fixes.”
Labour MP Marja Lubeck says NZTA will consider the bid through its normal commercial processes.
“It’s not a process for politicians to involve themselves in and politicise NZTA,” she says.