A new infrastructure body could bring forward the long-awaited Penlink roading project on Auckland's Whangaparoa Peninsula, says a business leader.
One of the world's largest construction companies, China Tiesiju Civil Engineering Group, has made an unsolicited bid to build and operate the $400 million Penlink project and pay for it through tolls.
Last month, the Chinese company approached the New Zealand Transport Agency with a proposal to build a four-lane tolled road in a joint venture with New Zealand firms.
The proposal received a low key response from NZTA, which said it would be treated according to Government guidelines as set out in Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment policy, but would not say if this could mean an early start on the project.
Infrastructure New Zealand chief executive Stephen Selwood said it is not clear in New Zealand who a company with an innovative infrastructure proposal should approach nor how their bid should be managed.
He said plans by Treasury to begin consultation on a new independent infrastructure body has come at an opportune time with Chinese interest in building Penlink.
"Penlink has sat on the books of both the Transport Agency and various Auckland councils for two decades now, and is planned to sit there another decade before anything happens.
"This is despite the project demonstrating a very strong economic return and the local community indicating they will pay a toll if it means getting the road built.
"Private sector investors and infrastructure companies have seen the opportunity and front-footed a solution, which is exactly what you want to happen when official processes get tied up," said Selwood.
He said the NZ Super Fund had teamed up with a Canadian pension fund to make an unsolicited proposal to build Government plans for a $6 billion light rail scheme in Auckland, and other domestic and international investors are looking for infrastructure opportunities.
Selwood said an independent infrastructure body will be able to develop guidelines for unsolicited bids, such as that received for Penlink, and advise responsible agencies and ministers on a transparent, fair and efficient process.
Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive, Michael Barnett, who passed on the unsolicited bid from China Tiesiju Civil Engineering Group to NZTA, said the Government needed to look at innovative ways to fulfil Penlink.
The 7km Penlink road is consented to run between the Northern motorway at Redvale and the heart of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, reducing by an estimated 50,000 the nearly 130,000 vehicles a day that travel through the heavily congested Silverdale business area.
Two years ago, the New Zealand arm of China State Construction Engineering Corporation, which is building the $200m Park Hyatt Hotel in the Wynyard Quarter, expressed interested in building Penlink.