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Fuel tax fears allayed

PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

‘Region has strong case for exemption’

CAL ROBERTS
[email protected]

Greater Wellington Regional Council chairman Chris Laidlaw has reassured motorists in Wairarapa they could well be exempt from a regional fuel tax if it goes ahead.

But one of his councillors has no idea what he was talking about.

Last week, Mr Laidlaw said the regional council would implement a fuel tax if legislation before Parliament was passed.

The bill would allow Auckland Council to introduce a regional petrol tax of 10c a litre plus GST from July 1 – and other councils would be able to apply for a similar tax in 2021.

So far, Waikato City, Christchurch City and Greater Wellington Regional Council have expressed interest in a regional fuel tax.

On Monday, Mr Laidlaw told the Times-Age that the regional council would actively seek to exclude Wairarapa from the scheme if the tax was given the greenlight.

“It would be under active consideration – that’s one of the reasons I asked for it.

“It wouldn’t be easy to apply, but it would be easier to apply to a place like Wairarapa, because there’s basically only one entrance.”

A similar exemption for Waiheke and Great Barrier Island residents from Auckland Council’s regional fuel tax was requested by Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye.

Mr Laidlaw said exemption from a Wellington fuel tax would depend on the projects being funded.

“The lion’s share of transport infrastructure projects are outside Wairarapa – we all understand that.

“The only one that’s inside is the rehabilitation of the [Wairarapa] line”

He said the regional council was looking at a collective costing of upgrading the rail service in and out of Wairarapa.

It was before the Government as part of “a broader business case,” brought forward by all three district councils and the regional council.

Mr Laidlaw said he hoped the majority, if not the total funding, would be met by the Government, because it was their line.

“Then the case for exempting Wairarapa from a regional fuel tax would be a lot stronger.

“It would be unarguable, really.”

Regional council Wairarapa representative Adrienne Staples said this was all news to her.

“There has been no discussion, and as the representative for Wairarapa, I would be very, very cautious about supporting a regional fuel tax.

“I’ve got grave concerns.”

Mrs Staples said it would have to show clear benefits for Wairarapa and said the idea of motorists paying for public transport was “fundamentally wrong”.

“We have not had any discussions around the impact of a fuel tax and whether we should impose one on the Wellington region.”

Mrs Staples said a fuel tax would impact motorists, freight logistics and petrol-based public transport.

“We can’t just get together and say, ‘That’s a jolly good idea, let’s do that’ – it’s got to have quite a lot of work done as to the economic impact.

“It needs some robust behind-the-scenes work done to give councillors the facts they need to have some serious debate.”

Labour list MP Kieran McAnulty said fretting over a Wellington fuel tax was premature.

“I think we’re getting too carried away too early, there’s a lot that has to happen before any regional fuel tax comes into play in the Wellington region.

“This isn’t a done deal.”

He also noted the timing of the potential policy’s rollout – which allows for a local body election before 2021, “and if [the regional council] wanted to put forward a regional fuel tax, I imagine that would be a key part of the campaign”.

Mr McAnulty said that for the first time ever, government had included rail in the criteria for the land transport fund, meaning things like the Wairarapa Rail Line could be funded from money that previously was only available for roading.

“That’s good news for the region.

“We can work constructively with the local councils, with the regional council and with KiwiRail to put forward a compelling case to the land transport fund.”

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