Chinese firm offers to pay for New Zealand toll highway

An unnamed Chinese construction company has offered to invest most of the NZ$400m ($260m) needed for a long-planned toll highway project in New Zealand, north of Auckland, and to build it.

Auckland’s Chamber of Commerce backs the offer from the "major roading and rail construction company"; the chamber solicited interest internationally for the scheme because, while the road had received consents, government had not been able to fund its delivery.

"The Minister has queued this project out some 10 years, we asked if we were able to identify independent funding would he be interested in bringing it forward? He said he’d be interested in hearing from us," chamber chief executive Michael Barnett told Radio New Zealand.

Intended to reduce congestion and boost economic activity, the plan has been to build a tolled, 7-km, four-lane highway linking the Whangaparoa Peninsula to State Highway One.

Land purchases for the new road were completed in 2007 and various reviews and consultations have been carried out since.

The offer pitched by the Chinese firm, in collaboration with a local company, is for a build-own-operate-transfer deal, which would see the Chinese-led consortium recoup its costs with toll revenue before turning the highway over to the New Zealand government.

In a statement the New Zealand Transport Agency confirmed it had received a letter from a consortium proposing to deliver the project.
"This, like any unsolicited bid, would be treated according to the Government guidelines for such bids as set out in Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment policy," the statement said.

Barnett told Radio New Zealand the offer was good for Auckland.

"I think the reality is for Auckland is that we’re in catch up, there’s a queue of projects that should done but we’re not doing them because we don’t have the funding or the priority is not there for them."

He added: "I think the Government will probably have some difficulty, I don’t mind accepting that, but we need to look at this at say if we’re going to do some sort of catch up with these major projects in New Zealand and we don’t have the funding here then we need to think differently.

"Thinking differently means using external money and perhaps having private sector drive the project instead of Government."

Image: The toll road alignment, captured from an Auckland Transport video describing the project (Auckland Transport)

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