Providing for continuing improvement in the quality of our water and the resilience of catchments and waterways is a core value of most Kiwis.
Given the scale of investment required by councils, particularly in water and wastewater services, the Government definitely has a role to play in co-investing alongside councils to address these issues.
While National supports the formation of a new water regulator and the need to improve the delivery of water and wastewater services, we are not supportive of the Three Waters proposal.
Specifically, we have concerns about the shareholding and governance arrangements and operational structure. We do accept councils should look to amalgamate their operations as much as possible and central government has a greater role in helping councils' meet their lumpy capital expenditure programmes.
As someone who spent two and a half years working on the corporatisation and subsequent privatisation of the water and wastewater companies in the UK and, when I returned to New Zealand, led a review of the Auckland water and wastewater operations, I have an understanding of some of the issues involved.
At a higher level, New Zealand should be re-evaluating water as a strategic asset. In fact, it is one of our few strategic advantages and how we might use it for creating new industries (such as for hydrogen production) or supporting existing ones (such as horticulture) as global warming occurs should be a conscious decision.
At present we have devolved the decision-making for these big strategic decisions to councils.
The Government should be working alongside the private sector to work out what are the best possible uses, and how we might go about utilising this valuable strategic resource.
Having come from the private sector and been involved in many infrastructure projects, the infrastructure portfolio is one I have long cherished. I do not accept New Zealanders have to put up with substandard infrastructure. We are not delivering,projects in a timely manner and they are costing more than they should.
In a post-Covid period, investment in infrastructure can play an essential role in helping to drive economic activity. This means that it is particularly important, this investment be spread across our regions.
Smart infrastructure investment will also play an important role de-carbonising our economy.
The effects of climate change on future infrastructure could be severe. Niwa estimates 125,000 buildings will be affected with a sea rise of up to 1 metre; their replacement cost is about $38 billion.
However, in New Zealand we do have limited capacity to undertake multiple projects at once. This constraint means central and local government should be clear about their plans and ensure a continuous pipeline of works exists that major contractors can resource accordingly.
For example, the Waterview tunnel was completed 2017 and then we had a hiatus until we started the construction of the City Rail Link in 2020. At about the same time Watercare commenced construction of the $1.2b Central Interceptor Pipeline. Currently we have Italian and French tunnelling specialists helping in these two big projects.
What we should have done as a Government is to lay out a programme of tunnelling projects for the next 20-30 years that would have involved sequential work involving Waterview, CRL, Central Interceptor, tunnelling in Wellington to address the congestion around the Basin Reserve, a cross-harbour tunnel in Auckland and finishing with a tunnel through the Kaimai Ranges to better connect Tauranga to Hamilton and Auckland. The trade-off for this period of continuous work would be that the Italian and French tunnelling specialists had a requirement to build up the capability of New Zealanders in this field and we, as a Government, would have sought cost savings from this extended period of work.
The Infrastructure Commission will go some way towards identifying the pipeline of infrastructure projects as a key part of its mandate but I am critical that the commission has not named and shamed those government entities who have not provided their proposed investment plans to the Commission.
I think it is essential that large council projects are included in this pipeline and we need to empower the commission to get this information.
The other issue is the time taken to get projects under way. All political parties agree that the Resource Management Act needs reform and this must be a priority. But this is not the only reason for huge delays in progressing projects through the planning process.
In the world of infrastructure development, time is something we in New Zealand seem to treat as a necessary evil, that any large-scale, city-shaping project must necessarily take longer to plan and fund than it takes to design and build.
The commission's briefing to the Infrastructure Minister noted New Zealand sat at 46th in terms of global competitiveness for infrastructure performance.
Large projects here take an average of 15 years to complete.
Quite simply, we need to unlock this blocked artery if we are to deliver projects much more quickly.
• Andrew Bayly is National's Infrastructure Spokesperson and Shadow Treasurer