Sustainability and avoiding white elephants

By Russel Norman

Russel Norman is co-leader of the Green Party. Photo / Greg Bowker
Russel Norman is co-leader of the Green Party. Photo / Greg Bowker

Under the Green Party's smart, green economic plan for New Zealand, "getting it right" means four things: sustainability, value for money, liveability, and New Zealand ownership.

Sustainability means building infrastructure that is going to be useful for decades to come and doesn't destroy the environment in the process.

For example, petrol prices are at near-record levels and IMF predicts them to hit $5 a litre by 2022. We're importing $8 billion a year in oil. Traffic volumes are falling on the routes of the proposed Roads of National Significance, which only carry four per cent of all traffic. Yet the Government is spending 75 per cent of its transport infrastructure budget on a $12 billion motorway programme for seven motorways that cost more than the benefits they create.

This doesn't fit with our sustainability test.

This is why the Greens would prioritise money into buses, trains, ferries, cycling and walking infrastructure instead - to reduce congestion, greenhouse emissions and our mammoth oil bill.

Sustainable infrastructure investment also recognises the value of our natural capital, which underpins our economy and needs investment.

The Department of Conservation estate, for example, might not ordinarily qualify as infrastructure but it is one of our most valuable economic assets and needs investment in biodiversity protection.

Value for money is about making sure that the options we choose deliver the most benefits for taxpayer money.

Our approach is to rigorously test all major infrastructure projects to ensure we choose the best of the available options to achieve valuable outcomes. New Zealanders deserve nothing less than to know the Government is getting the best bang for their bucks.

Based on the benefit cost analyses produced so far, we would fund the Auckland City Rail Link to double the capacity of the city's rail network. And we would invest more in home insulation, which produces $4 of savings in health costs alone for each dollar invested.

Liveability is about building infrastructure that makes our lives better.

The Greens' home insulation programme, which has helped provide 500,000 New Zealanders with warmer, healthier homes is one example of this. We want to extend this programme and make it mandatory for landlords to provide decent insulation in rented homes.

Our policy around urban design is focused on liveability. We don't want endless sprawl sliced and diced by motorways because it creates less liveable cities where housing is expensive, infrastructure is expensive, and people spend endless hours and a lot of money driving in cars.

The Greens look to the most liveable cities in the world - such as Vienna, Zurich, and Geneva - that are compact and well-serviced by smart public transport.

New Zealand ownership of infrastructure brings huge benefits to our country.

It means the infrastructure is built and operated in the interests of our country rather than the interests of overseas shareholders.

The asset-stripping, under-investment, and over-pricing that has occurred when New Zealand ownership has been lost over infrastructure such as the railways and Telecom shows the risks of losing control of strategic infrastructure.

That's why the Greens strongly oppose the Government's asset sales programme and moves by the Government to pressure Christchurch City Council into selling its assets to fund the rebuild.

Done well, public infrastructure investment can build us a nation that gives us better, more prosperous lives. Done poorly, it is an enormous waste of taxpayer money that saddles us with white elephant projects.

The Green Party's smart, green economic plan is about making sure we choose the right path.

- NZ Herald

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