Bill English is primed to launch a new National Infrastructure Plan which will enable a better bang for the taxpayers' buck when it comes to investing in projects that will underpin New Zealand's growth.
English, who has Cabinet portfolio responsibility for infrastructure, says the new plan is focused on understanding the nation's future needs. It has a stronger focus on how existing assets are managed and how better investment decisions can be made.
"We are moving it on from being just a list of new projects because a lot of the gains we can get are from the better management of existing infrastructure," says English.
He will launch the 2015 National Infrastructure plan at the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure (NZCID) symposium in Christchurch this morning.
A high-powered panel, including NZCID chair John Rae, Local Government NZ president Lawrence Yule and BusinessNZ chair David Prentice will discuss the plan in front of an audience of key players from the NZ infrastructure industry.
NZCID -- along with individual industry leaders -- has been in the vanguard of lobbying for a different approach to national infrastructure planning. English explains a prime focus in the new plan will be on getting better regional overviews of the different infrastructure classes. He cites Auckland as an example. "You want to be able to see how the growth in housing supply and the growth in water systems and roads all fit together.
"Most regions don't have that overview. The local government knows about their bit which is local roads and water. There has been some progress in integrating with NZTA, but they don't have much visibility over the Government's intentions for all the other public infrastructure such as schools and hospitals.
"Gathering up all the information together enables a cohesive regional view of the current state of regional infrastructure and, importantly, better tools for deciding what investment is needed over the next 10 years or so.
"We believe quite significant efficiency can be gained there."
English cites some clever work done by Hayden Read -- who is Manager Strategic Asset Planning at Wellington City Council -- which the Government also wants to build on by setting metadata standards and creating a common collection and repository of all the things the industry can use for better management.
Water infrastructure is another area ripe for attention.
Earlier this week, English met with visiting NSW Premier Mike Baird to discuss shared investment opportunities and infrastructure planning.
Though a proposal for joint marketing of NZ infrastructure projects alongside Australia is still way down the pipeline, the Government is lending support to an Australian push. "As a result of the G20 they've also won the right to set up a global infrastructure hub," says English. "We will work closely with them on that."
He says it's important to develop a functional Australasian market. "The plan we launch will be a quite a big step forward. It improves the transparency and quality of the pipeline data."
It will also signal annually produced 10-year capital intentions plans and increased detail in years 1-3.
English says the Government is signing up to work on a transtasman procurement market for infrastructure partnerships with Australia.
Auckland's growth pains
The Government's relationship with Auckland Council on infrastructure priorities has been vexed. But English suggests a new understanding has been reached. The council is now testing whether the existing infrastructure projects are sufficient to underpin Auckland's rapid growth.
"We are in an ongoing discussion with the Auckland Council and Government agencies about how they set their constraints on what they do," he explains. "The question in Auckland is this: Are there projects with a positive benefit-cost ratio which we are not doing because of the constraints we have set? Is there a common understanding about what's being left out below the line?"
English says both Government and council now have better tools. For instance, they are now using the same transport model with the same basis of facts for projections.
Terms of reference for the Auckland Transport Accord are also being signed and both parties are having a hard look at transport strategy.
Says English: "It's not interfering with the flow of projects that is there now, but looking pretty hard at whether we've got the general strategy right for the next 10-15 years. The relationship there is coming along well. I think we are going to see quite a big shift in our mutual understanding. The issues are all resolvable.
"You can make a lot more progress when you agree what is happening and why and you can see where gaps are."
NZCID had called for central and local government to align to co-ordinate infrastructure planning and development. English says the Government is putting in place the tool kit that is going to enable that.
"So in that sense, the Infrastructure Plan isn't really a retail document.
"It is being driven by the industry and it needs to meet that kind of need."