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Finance Minister Grant Robertson told today’s lunch the focus was on the future of the city of Auckland and he’d had a lot of conversations with Mayor Phil Goff which would continue.
A small country like New Zealand needed a large international city and “Auckland is our genuine international city” so the Government had a partnership with it.
Transport, housing and infrastructure investment meant Auckland would always get an investment equivalent to or ahead of the rest of New Zealand.
Any city requiring a retrofit of itself while people were living it went through frustrations.
“That means disruption like with City Rail but also with projects like light rail…the city needs to be future proofed. I want to acknowledge the frustration but the need to work together to allow the city to keep operating.
Finalisation of the Auckland Transport Alignment Contract (ATAP) had been completed and it was a vast, multifaceted attempt to modernise aspect of infrastructure for Auckland to ensure congestion was unlocked and alternatives were provided, Robertson said.
The Auckland housing programme was seeing thousands of houses being built and in the pipeline, he said.
“Yes we can intensify in our cities in a way that works but only if we consider transport and housing as part of the same housing.”
The future of light rail was of great interest and the “next steps[will be put] in front of Cabinet in the next month or so and then we’ll be able to take that out to the community. It’s an important project”.
A partnership between the Government and council to develop America’s Cup facilities enabled us to host future regattas.
“I would love to see that hosted in Auckland again and discussions with Team NZ will begin soon, I’m sure. I also note Sir Stephen Tindall from a Team NZ point is this should be an event that can look after itself and fund itself. We’ll keep working with them and supporting them to make sure New Zealanders who loved it can have it here again but there’s commercial discussions to be had,” Robertson said, referring to a multi-decade planning exercise potentially.
Auckland should come together about what other major events it wants and the council should come to the Government to discuss that, he said.
Robertson praised Ngati Whatua as “an impressive outfit” commercially and a willing partner in a number of developments and there was the potential for greater partnerships with that iwi and others “and we want to do what we can to support and facilitate that”.
Special purpose vehicles to drive development and bring in iwi as well as other investors had big potential in Auckland, Robertson said.
“We want and we’re open for business that can make use of infrastructure funding we put in action,” he said, encouraging Auckland to make greater use of that.
NZ Herald managing editor Shayne Currie asked about another $50m to keep the America’s Cup here.
“We’d love to see the cup hosted here again. We’ve got considerations around many other things to invest and fund and support. It provides us with a huge injection of national pride but it has to stack up economically. Of the $136.5m the Government put in, $113m was infrastructure,” Robertson said.
“So that was a big investment from us. We’re happy to sit down and talk and have those conversations but ultimately there will always be a limit to what central Government can do,” he said.
Currie asked if it was easier without Winstone Peters and about the possibility of moving Auckland’s port.
Robertson said there were concerns about the last Government and possible port reform and that topic was being looked at “once we get the mass transit work through Cabinet. I don’t know anybody from mid 20s 30s onwards is that Auckland can be the kind of export or import port it is today. We do need to look at alternatives. We need to look at our port strategy nationwide and the future proofing of our maritime industry, we’ll come up with some more concrete ideas.”
Asked about Covid alert level changes, Robertson said the Government was well aware how disruptive these were for business, particularly hospitality.
“Long sustained periods of level one are the best for hospitality and other tourism-related businesses, to be able to operate…other countries haven’t had that, they have been at the equivalent of levels 3 and 4. But we recognise there are ongoing needs,” he said of New Zealand businesses affected by lockdowns.
Around 130,000 people have been through managed isolation since March last year, he said.
Asked if the Government would sponsor the team so New Zealand’s name was always on the boat, Robertson said: “I’m not going to say yes or no to that now but I know the Team New Zealand brand is extremely strong and the Government invested heavily in the broader sense of the IP. We obviously have an attachment. Yip that’s an idea. If it does keep the name and the event did end up offshore, there’s a way to find a different type of exposure for New Zealand. It tends to come down in the finals to the fact we’ve been huge in Italy in the last couple of weeks, not so much in other markets.”
Asked about the possibility of more MIQ facilities, Robertson said spaces would be freed up soon for people who were relatively lower risk with a higher percentage of people who might need to stay longer.
“Yes there should be more. The best thing we can do is get all New Zealanders vaccinated as soon as possible. The full bulk of the population will get the opportunity to be vaccinated,” he said, asking those at the event to “be the business to actually host vaccinations because that is the very best route.”
Asked by Fran O’Sullivan about how the Government viewed China, he said “in the short term we have not been discussing China as a bubble.” Instead, the focus had been on Australia and the pacific, he said.
“Let’s get this transtasman bubble soon and I’m confident.”
Speaking earlier, Mayor Phil Goff said today’s event was being held in a very different climate to this time a year ago.
The outlook looked very grim, there was fear of mass deaths and the worst recession since the 1930s.
But Goff said through good leadership and collective effort, we were spared the worse of what had been forecast.
The hospital system had not been overwhelmed and New Zealanders had been able to live reasonably normally.
Yet Auckland had been hard hit, particularly in tourism and international students.
The prospect of a travel bubble with Australia within the next month, as well as one with China, could mean a big comeback, Goff said.
Mass vaccination was another bright spot, he said.
Compared with Australia Canada, the US and UK, “economically this country and city has gone really well”, he said.
Yet major international events had been lost – all except the America’s Cup, Goff said, and that had been “a magnificent feeling, with Rangitoto in the background, showcasing our sportsmanship, design and technology, a beautiful city and harbour and stable and well governed country that was doing well in spite of the Covid crisis”, Goff said.
The challenge was now to keep the cup here “and I hope we can persuade Team NZ the infrastructure is here”, he said.
Auckland’s road toll would be cut by 60 per cent, it would have a more resilient water supply and although it has challenges, there’s a lot to celebrate, Goff said.
Asked by NZ Herald managing editor Shayne Currie if the council had been blindsided by the cup possibly going elsewhere, Goff said:
“We did come to the party and it’s not easy for a council to find $112m invested in infrastructure. We were happy to do that. The end of Wynyard Quarter will be a beautiful headland park. We will have finished the work on Quay St and the old Post Office building is opening in a couple of weeks time and this is a fantastic city to host it,” Goff said of the cup.
“Will they stay here? It’s two things. First, it’s a sporting event and [from that point of view] of course they’d hold it here. The other side is a business and the Government will negotiate around that but we’re not in the business of competing with Dubai or even the Isle of White if a billionaire is putting up a huge sum. But we’d provide the best possible venue for a yacht race,” Goff said.