Auckland's mayor says a proposed property deal involving the downtown rail tunnel is a signal the project needs to start sooner rather than later.
Precinct Properties wants to spend up to $350 million on its Downtown Shopping Centre site, which lies in the tunnel's path, and may itself build the first section.
The Auckland Council and Precinct have agreed to discuss the idea of building a section of tunnel under the centre when it is redeveloped in three to four years' time.
That would create a section up to 100 metres long, even though the Government is not backing a start for the project before 2020.
Precinct says it's in the early stages of planning but it would like to start about three years earlier than 2020. Its chief executive, Scott Pritchard, says the firm wants some certainty about what it can do. "The sooner the better for the city," he says.
The council says a deal with Precinct could free up $90 million it had earmarked to buy the site and own it for five to 10 years' while the tunnel was built.
Mayor Len Brown says the move signals the importance the City Rail Link will have in revitalising the downtown area. The council still hopes to start the full project around 2016, but will have to convince the government rail patronage is rising fast enough.
The announcement of the negotiations coincides with celebrations marking the 10th aniversary of the opening of the Britomart rail terminus.