We need to capitalise more on the 'golden triangle' of Auckland, Tauranga and Hamilton, writes Robert Jones

Collaborative thinking and co-operation would help get some of our key infrastructure projects underway, and help regions outside of Auckland, such as the Bay of Plenty.

By 2030, Singapore's mass transit rail network will be as dense as those in London, New York and Tokyo. It will have doubled in size to 360km, with eight in 10 households within a 10-minute walk of a train station and complemented by an integrated bus network.

All this has been achieved in 40 years. It it took more than 100 years for those other cities to achieve the same results.

When a country spans just 50km from east to west and 27km from north to south and has been ruled by the same political party since 1959, it's tempting to downplay this achievement. But there's a lot we can learn from their approach.

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Singapore's success lies in the coherence of its planning. The city's master plan sees its 719sq km of space as a single entity, needing to accommodate population growth, business development, recreational amenities, a major port and an aviation hub.

Like Newton's Law, it acknowledges that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Auckland has an opportunity to show similar leadership, along the lines envisaged in the 30-Year New Zealand Infrastructure Plan 2015.

It recommends establishing regional centres of excellence to support decision-making and options to support long-term and integrated infrastructure plans.

We need to think beyond the "Super City" and think "Super Region." We have the golden triangle in Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga -- three cities offering excellent regional opportunities, if only we could get the planning and investment right.

The time is right to adopt the regional centre of excellence thinking the National Infrastructure Plan envisages. This starts with taking a much wider and longer term view which crosses regional boundaries.

Here's an example. We all know about Auckland's growing pains, but all the thinking is focused on building housing within the region.

Meanwhile, with developments like the Waikato Expressway along with that region's more affordable housing and land, Waikato is beginning to look attractive as a home base for Auckland workers. Yet not a single commuter train makes the Hamilton to Auckland run. We have the track, but no trains. Why?

Compare this with policy direction in the UK that says funding rail unlocks multiple benefits including making land on the fringes more attractive for all types of housing because it is newly served by transport.

During more than 30 years in the infrastructure sector, I've seen how collaboration can work, even with competitors. It's common today to see competitors forming alliances and joint ventures to get the big jobs done.

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The UK's ambitious Crossrail project, spanning 118km of east to west rail, is an example. Projects like this ascribe to the logic that infrastructure is a growth enabler for the economy, not vice versa. In other words "build it and they will come."

As the National Infrastructure Plan observes, infrastructure assets often form part of a wider system that can span different parts of the economy and geographic boundaries.

Taking a "system" view of service delivery outside of any individual infrastructure sector requires close collaboration between infrastructure providers. It also helps when central government draws policy and resources into a portfolio to lead development across local, regional and national levels.

There is a good example in Australia's Ministry for Infrastructure and Regional Development and its A$10.7 billion Inland Rail Project. This is a priority project with state and federal government interests and industry working collaboratively and in consultation with industry and communities to create a national solution.

The Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail project will provide a dedicated 1700km direct freight line and move goods between the two cities and states in less than 24 hours.

Taking a "system" view of service delivery outside of any individual infrastructure sector requires close collaboration between infrastructure providers.

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It will travel through inland eastern Australia, connecting the richest farming areas of Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. It will also link into the existing national rail network to connect southeast Queensland more directly with Adelaide and Perth and every major port in the Australia.

The project involves upgrades of 1100km of existing rails and 600km of new tracks.

It will move significant freight volumes off congested roads, reduce freight fuel consumption by a third and deliver economic benefits calculated at A$22 billion.

During more than 30 years in the infrastructure sector, I've seen how collaboration can work, even with competitors. It's common today to see competitors forming alliances and joint ventures to get the big jobs done. We take pride in the projects we're delivering together and we do them well.

We also need to apply collaborative thinking to funding. Auckland's Western Ring Route with its Waterview tunnels was considered as a public-private partnership (PPP) way back in 2008. Why has it taken another eight years to see the first PPP project underway in Transmission Gully?

A total of $110 billion will be invested in New Zealand's infrastructure in the next 10 years. We need to be confident each scarce dollar is wisely spent for maximum benefit and that we work together to make this happen.

To quote Earnest Rutherford: "We haven't the money, so we have to think". Auckland could lead that thinking.