The taxpayer bill for the abandoned iRex project is almost half a billion dollars — with $94 million of that for mega ferries that were never built.

In December, Finance Minister Nicola Willis announced Cabinet had declined a request from Kiwirail for more funding. As a result the project, which had blown out to $3 billion, would be axed.

At the time, Willis said: “A resilient ferry service should not mean an open chequebook paid for by the taxpayer.”

Kiwirail estimated in December that $400m had been spent on iRex but, since then, the bill has climbed to $484m.

No one from the Government could be interviewed today but a spokesperson said ministers were committed to a resilient service across the Cook Strait. “Costs of winding down iReX were taken into account when Cabinet made its decision to decline further funding.”

Details provided by KiwiRail showed the bulk of the money, $347m, had been spent on terminals. Chief infrastructure officer André Lovatt said that outlay included “terminal design, consenting, and enabling works, and a range of make good works undertaken after the cancellation of the project”.

Lovatt said $94 million was spent on the proposed mega ferries “for design, procurement, the initial deposit for the ships’ build, and funding costs for the ships’ loan facility”.

The rest of the money went towards other aspects of the wind down, but the cost of breaking the contract with the South Korean shipyard wasn’t included. Also not included was the cost of any new ferries.

‘Public money down the gurgler’ — union

Maritime Union national secretary Carl Findlay said the Government shouldn’t have scrapped the iRex project. “I think it’s a disgrace. I mean the Government can put whatever spin they want on it but the facts are that’s a lot of taxpayers’ money gone down the gurgler there.”

“It’s not going away. We still have to get vessels and get infrastructure built.”

Much of the cost overrun for the project happened under the previous government. Labour leader Chris Hipkins said the portside costs needed to be lowered but ending iRex wasn’t the right move.

“I think the real risk now is that the Government will see a huge hundreds of millions of dollars sunk into this project and then they’re going to have to start again. And actually, ultimately, we could end up on the hook for more money as a result.”

1News has previously reported that an independent advisory group recommended the Government purchase brand new ships similar in size to what they have currently. Last week, Nicola Willis said an announcement on new ferries was coming soon.

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