Infrastructure rated in $17b plan

By Adam Bennett, NZPA

The Government revealed it intends to spend $6.5 billion on roads in its infrastructure plans. File photo / NZ Herald
The Government revealed it intends to spend $6.5 billion on roads in its infrastructure plans. File photo / NZ Herald

New Zealand's infrastructure sectors have been rated for performance in the Government's second National Infrastructure Plan, and some have been found wanting.

The plan - which was released today - confirms that central government will spend $7.6 million on social assests such as schools, hospitals, housing and prisons over a four year period, $6.5 billion on roads and about $1.5 billion each on fast broadband and rail services.

But it also says there is often a lack of consideration of how individual projects contribute to the wider network and limited understanding of the implications of changing demand.

Transport, telecommunications, energy, water and social sectors have been rated on investment analysis, resilience, funding mechanisms, accountability and performance, regulation and co-ordination.

Water is the worst, with investment analysis, funding mechanisms and regulation marked as "does not occur or is ineffective".

Transport scores well except for investment analysis and co-ordination, which "could be further developed".

Telecommunications gets a "could be further developed" for investment analysis and regulation.

Energy's investment analysis, resilience and co-ordination could also be "further developed".

Social infrastructure does well only on resilience and regulation, with investment analysis, funding mechanisms, accountability and performance and co-ordination all in the "could be further developed" category.

Water New Zealand, the country's largest water industry body, said it wasn't surprised by the sector's poor rating.

"Current policy settings, institutions and regulatory tools for water infrastructure were put in place many years ago and are well overdue for review," said the organisation's chief executive Murray Gibb.

"As so tragically found in the Christchurch earthquakes, these assets are largely buried underground out of sight - and often out of mind."

Details of the plan

The Government has made quake-ravaged Christchurch and economic power house Auckland the focus of its $17 billion four year infrastructure investment plan.

The Government's infrastructure investment prioritites over the next three years were to work with stakeholders to rebuild Canterbury infrastructure, and to provide a "comprehensive approach to investment in Auckland that is fair to all New Zealanders and helps implement the Government's responsibilities through the Auckland spatial plan".

Other priorities including improving the management of government owned social infrastructure, focusing transport investment on supporting exports and improving the Government's oversight of its infrastructure assets.

Associate infrastructure minister Steven Joyce said today's plan highlighted progress to date and strategic opportunities for telecommunications and transport infrastructure.

"This Government is committed to ensuring New Zealand has the infrastructure to support faster economic growth," he said.

"Effective transport and telecommunications networks will be central to achieving this."

In the plan, the Government also signals it is likely to look closer at user charges such as road tolls to help fund infrastructure investment, saying it intends to "increase understanding of and encourage debate on the use of demand management and pricing in infrastructure sectors".

The report also emphasises the need to "use lessons from Christchurch" to improve the resillience of infrastructure networks so they can cope better with events such as natural disasters.

Giving little detail about specific projects, the plan is described as "a strategic document rather than a plan of what to build, when and why".

The plan sets out the Government's infrastructure priorities over the next three years:

* Working with stakeholders to rebuild Canterbury's infrastructure;

* A comprehensive approach to investment in Auckland;

* Improving the management of government-owned assets such as prisons, hospitals and schools;

* Investment to support exports through projects like Roads of National Significance and better rail links to ports; and

* Improving the Government's ability to monitor performance across all infrastructure sectors.

The plan also sets out a 20-year strategy for infrastructure and lists the challenges ahead:

* There is insufficient consideration of how assets function as a network or address potential changes in demand;

* Infrastructure is vulnerable to outages, including through natural hazards and insufficient knowledge of resilience;

* The performance of assets is not always transparent -- it is now always clear who is accountable for decisions;

* The regulatory environment does not support long term infrastructure development; and

* Poor co-ordination between providers leads to suboptimal outcomes, decisions over land use and infrastructure investment could be better integrated.

The first infrastructure plan was issued in March last year, the third will be in three years' time.

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