Prime Minister John Key has announced a $212 million roading and construction package in a bid to shoreup National's vote in regional New Zealand for the September 20 election.
The announcement was made in his speech to the National Party conference in Wellington, where he and wife Bronagh received a rapturous welcome.
The spending on 14 projects identified would come from the so-called future investment fund - the proceeds of the partial sale of state-owned assets in the past term.
The five projects, already approved, and given the highest priority are:
- Kawarau Falls Bridge in Otago
- Mingha Bluff to Rough Creek realignment in Canterbury
- Akerama Curves realignment and passing lane in Northland
- State Highway 35 Slow Vehicle Bays in Gisborne
- Normanby Overbridge realignment in Taranaki.
They were approved already but weren't due to begin until close to 2020. They will be given $80 million to have work begun next year.
Another six projects have been identified for an additional $115 million and for work to begin within three years, subject to usual approvals:
- Whirokino Trestle Bridge replacement, in Manawatu/ Wanganui
- Motu Bridge replacement in Gisborne
- Opawa and Wairau Bridge replacements in Marlborough
- Taramakau raod and rail bridge bridge on the West Coast
- Loop Rd north to Smeatons Hill safety improvements in Northland
- Mt Messenger and Awakino Gorge corridor in Taranaki.
Another $12 million will be dedicated to investigate three projects in Nelson, Hawkes Bay and Bay of Plenty: a Port of Napier access package; Nelson southern link; and Rotorua eastern arterial.
Mr Key said the $212 million would be on top of $360 million already proposed for regional roads.
"Each project is important because it makes roads safer, helps the region be more productive or improves the way the roading network operates.
"Until today there was no guarantee these projects would be funded in the foreseeable future."
Mr Key began his speech by attacking Labour over its failure to support a law allowing fallen native timber after cyclone Ita to be harvested (though two South Island Labour MPs, Damien O'Connor and Rino Tirakatene, crossed the floor).
"We're a Government that's practical enough to know when a storm blows trees over, you can mill them and create jobs."
"Compare that with the Labour Party who'd leave all that dead wood lying around doing nothing. Mind you we shouldn't be surprised because that's what they do in their own caucus."
Labour leader David Cunliffe dismissed Mr Key's regional roading package, saying it wouldn't give the regions a "real future".
"It's less money than National has taken out of regional roading in the past, and really doesn't substitute for a proper strategy," Mr Cunliffe said today.
"I think it's about building a few roads, but it's not a regional development policy, so it would be nice if the regions had a real future."
The plan would not really help the regions, he said, adding that during its time in government, National had cut the regional roading budget from $330 million per year to $160m.
"So what they're putting back now is less than they took out."
Labour would "more than match" National's policy, he said.
"This is not really a regional development plan at all. It's just putting back a little bit of what they've already taken out of regional roads. It's frankly pretty disappointing."
Labour is "committed to a full regional development strategy", he said.