New Zealanders are yet to support infrastructure development to meet future demand, National Infrastructure Advisory Board chairman Dr Rod Carr says.

"I don't think there is a consensus that we are prepared to build things on the basis that people will come," he said. "[Julius] Vogel built train lines on the basis that businesses, farms and factories would form."

Carr, vice-chancellor of the University of Canterbury, says if New Zealand wants to close the income gap with Australia, infrastructure targets need to be set, like how much electricity will be needed or how much freight will have to be moved.

The role of the eight-member National Infrastructure Advisory Board is to advise Infrastructure Minister Bill English and the Treasury's National Infrastructure Unit on projects, capital asset management issues and the development of the National Infrastructure Plan.

"I am not in favour of creating long-term plans. Infrastructure needs to be flexible," he says.

The board, drawn mainly from the private sector, describes itself as a "conduit to different viewpoints and areas of expertise on long-term infrastructure needs, robust and reliable infrastructure project appraisal and capital asset management issues".

It has no independent staff, does not commission its own research and is not a lobbyist for infrastructure spending as such. Rather it provides private-sector views on infrastructure development directly to the Government, including views on public - private infrastructure partnerships, though there has been no discussion on PPPs to date. But Carr acknowledges PPPs are part of the mix. "The benefits of PPPs are much more about operating aspects [of projects] than they are funding," he said. "There is no need to just cast public-private partnerships as bogeymen."

Carr says the infrastructure project consent process needs to be tidied up to provide an element of certainty for applications. The community should have some influence in decisions but the process needs to be on a stage-by-stage basis to protect applicants from incurring unnecessary costs.

The recently reformed Resource Management Act (RMA) features prominently in the National Infrastructure Plan, itself part of the Government's growth strategy.

"The Government believes that the RMA is creating unnecessary delays and compliance costs which are hindering economic growth and infrastructure development," the plan says.

"Streamlining and simplifying the Resource Management Act is an important part of the Government's overall economic strategy, especially given its programme for economic recovery includes major infrastructure investment."

The reforms, which became law last October, promise to:

* reduce the number of frivolous and vexatious objections and appeals (including those motivated by trade competition reasons);

* improve the processing of applications for proposals of national significance;

* improve plan development and change processes;

* improve resource consent processes;

* improve the efficiency and effectiveness of national instruments;

* strengthen enforcement and compliance mechanisms; and

* streamline decision-making.

"Ministers' and officials' focus has now shifted to the second phase of reform, which will progress over a longer timeframe and examine a range of more complex issues" the plan says.

"The primary objective of these reforms is to achieve least-cost delivery of good environmental outcomes, including, among other things, improving the economic efficiency of implementation without compromising underlying environmental integrity. Specific areas for investigation include aquaculture, the role and functions of the Environmental Protection Authority, fresh water management, and urban design and infrastructure issues.

"With regards to infrastructure, the Government will focus on identifying options for improving RMA designation provisions, government direction on infrastructure proposals and compensation provisions under the RMA and Public Works Act."

A range of other regulatory reviews is taking place in the public sector to improve economic efficiency and make infrastructure development easier.

In October the Government issued guidelines for the use of PPPs in infrastructure development, based largely on procurement, construction and asset management guidelines set in Australia.

"It is desirable to promote a high degree of standardisation, discipline and transparency in the letting of PPP contracts through guidance material for government agencies that might be involved in letting," the National Infrastructure Unit said at the time.