The government is due to reveal its route for the Auckland light rail project before Christmas. (Photo: Supplied)
The government is due to reveal its route for the Auckland light rail project before Christmas. (Photo: Supplied)

PoliticsDecember 14, 2021

‘This is for us’: Māngere sends strong message on light rail 

The government is due to reveal its route for the Auckland light rail project before Christmas. (Photo: Supplied)
The government is due to reveal its route for the Auckland light rail project before Christmas. (Photo: Supplied)

The government will be announcing the route and preferred mode for its long-promised Auckland light rail plans in the next two weeks. But will the affected South Auckland communities be along for the ride? 

The message is clear from Māngere’s local residents and leaders: we want a train station in our town centre, regardless of the disruption.

But the decision on whether the suburb gets an early Christmas present won’t be known until the government announces the route for its light rail project from the city to Auckland airport in the next two weeks. The alternative would be to keep the line running down state highway 20A, reducing the cost of the project, but also limiting any extra development that could be built alongside the transport infrastructure – like giving Māngere’s dilapidated town centre a facelift. 

Māngere-Ōtāhuhu Local Board chair Lemauga Lydia Sosene says a station in her area’s town centre would be a “game-changer”, as it could lift incomes, increase affordable housing options and make it easier for people to connect to employment. “We’re quite transport-poor in terms of connectivity and infrastructure compared to the rest of Auckland,” she says. 

“But if the town centre was a focal point, I’m hopeful this will be an opportunity to really lift this community.”

She says her greatest fear is the project will be “done to our community, not with our community”.

“The only reservation I do have is around gentrification and will there be the local procurement,” she says. 

“Our people need to be involved in the engagement, from our young people getting those really good jobs in the design and implementation through to jobs like train drivers [going to locals]. If we can get our local workforce involved, it can be transformative.” 

The light rail project is another step towards Auckland having a fully integrated public transport network (Photo: Supplied)

Currently, Māngere’s 50-year-old town centre is a collection of two-dollar shops, fast food joints, loans sharks, fruit and veggie outlets plus a few locally owned retailers selling clothes, jewellery and shoes. But when it rains, shopping can become somewhat hazardous as a much-needed renovation to the town centre’s roof was cancelled when Auckland Council redirected funding to the City Rail Link. 

Māngere town centre manager Dave Fearon says all this could change. With 10,000 new Kāinga Ora houses being built in the area, the increased patronage could attract new investment into the complex.

“It could really be a catalyst for change,” he says. “The train station could be a building block for a set of expansions and fix up some of the issues we currently face.”

And both Fearon and Sosene say the disruption that usually comes with so much construction will be worth it. “Yes, there will be disruption, but our community has been like a cone city anyway for the last few years, so what I’ll be asking is that our people are told things early and clearly.”

The light rail decision comes nine months after transport minister Michael Wood announced a reset, as the project had been mired in political and bureaucratic infighting during Labour’s first term of government. In March, Wood set up a new establishment unit to undertake a business case and consultation process, which has included getting feedback from over 3,000 people, the majority of which was done in-person at weekend markets and shopping strips.

From left; transport minister Michael Wood, Māngere-Ōtāhuhu Local Board chair Lemauga Lydia Sosene and light rail establishment unit CEO Tommy Parkers (Photos: Supplied)

Establishment unit chief executive Tommy Parker says while some people were unaware the project was even happening, once the housing and commercial development opportunities were understood, it was clear Māngere’s residents wanted a station located in their shopping centre. 

He says the community’s feedback could be best summed up by one local who said: “You’re not going to pass us. This is for us.”

Cameron Law, the business case and consenting lead, says the most obvious route would have been to avoid Māngere town centre altogether, keeping the track alongside state highway 20A, but it quickly became clear this didn’t meet the “ regeneration principles” set out by the minister.

“When we started we just assumed a motorway-based corridor because it’s cheaper, less disruptive and we wouldn’t have to acquire the land,” he says. “But by actually allowing local communities to participate, we have been able to see those urban regeneration opportunities.”

Along with this recommendation, the establishment unit is also recommending that the light rail route start with a tunnel from Wynyard Quarter to Mt Roskill, before running at street level to the airport.

Transport minister Michael Wood says while the multi-billion dollar project carries a “significant financial” price tag, the investment makes sense given there is existing infrastructure in the potential route corridor. 

“It’s important to note that the cost of inaction will certainly be much higher. Pre-Covid congestion in Auckland alone cost approximately $1.3 billion per year, and this figure will only get worse as Auckland continues its rapid growth,” says Wood. “If we don’t support more housing in existing areas through light rail then we will have to invest in infrastructure at the city fringes.”

He also points out this light rail line doesn’t “sit in isolation” but could be just the beginning of a wider integrated network that connects the whole city. 

“It will connect into the existing public transport network and is the first stage of a linked-up MRT network that will also include lines to the North Shore and the north west. Investment in the project delivers benefits not only to the immediate corridor, but enables the development of a network that will benefit huge numbers of Aucklanders in the future.”

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