Private sector funding has created momentum for new infrastructure development. Is Auckland now poised for its Olympic moment? asks Paul Goodwin

As Auckland's population sprints towards a projected two million by the early 2030s, many are asking how its already stretched infrastructure, particularly around housing and transport, can keep up with the pace.

But could the region be approaching its "Olympic moment" when a step-change in development delivers the projects that will equip Auckland to compete and win against the best in the world?

The Global Financial Crisis saw a lull in construction, which was already lagging due to a historical lack of investment. The Auckland region is yet to catch up, yet quality infrastructure is a key determinant of a city's growth potential.

In the afterglow of Rio 2016 one Kiwi athlete suggested that Auckland might need to host the Olympic Games to kickstart construction on the required scale. While generally accepted that the costs of hosting a modern Olympics far outstrip the benefits, the athlete is right that the Games are a catalyst for some serious investment and development.


Auckland already has some of the characteristics of cities preparing for the Games - a focus on what the city wants to be, broad consensus on the need for investment, and a collective will to get it done.

In Auckland's case, it's not the Games that has crystallised the vision and galvanised political, business and community interests into action, but other factors that are less glamorous but just as pressing.

A fast-growing population, intensifying demand for housing and services, and a broader opportunity to be a bigger player during a century that will belong to Asia and its neighbours have created pressures for progress that can no longer be put aside.

A number of projects of unprecedented scale are already under way, including the $3.4 billion City Rail Link (CRL), New Zealand International Convention Centre, Wynyard Quarter urban redevelopment, and roading schemes including the Waterview motorway connection. These projects could stimulate more.

But the legacy of underinvestment has created constraints that need to be overcome: shortages of labour and skills, limitations in domestic construction capacity and supply chain, and the challenge of attracting new players with the scale and expertise to deliver the biggest projects.

We are seeing progress in a number of areas. Private sector involvement in funding and delivery has widened the scope and shortened the timeframes for what can be achieved.

The public-private partnership that will deliver the nationally significant Puhoi to Warkworth motorway provides a model to attract large investors and global construction firms.

This and other PPPs allow the introduction of private sector innovation and funding to large, complex developments which can reduce costs and mitigate risks while ultimate ownership of the facilities stays with the public.

Evolving approaches to procurement, with central and local government working together to agree on funding for projects such as the CRL, bode well for getting key infrastructure projects under way and raising capital.

We see potential to extend these approaches into other vital areas such as tourism and housing. As an example, implementation of the Auckland Unitary Plan will require continued collaboration between central and local government.

To imagine the long-term benefits that could flow from such an "Olympic moment", we need only look at cities which have hosted the Games.

A common theme among successful hosts - and one increasingly evident in Auckland - is a focusing of political and community will, driven by the realisation that transformation is needed, and the time is now.

While host cities have mixed legacies, those which have planned well, with a view to the region's long-term needs in areas such as transport, tourism and accommodation, have shown the investment can boost a region's development for decades.

Sydney is estimated to have invested $2 billion in additional regional infrastructure around its core investment of a similar amount on facilities built specifically for the 2000 Olympic Games.

This included building roads and a new rail link, upgrading railway stations and the airport, whose international visitor capacity was doubled. Telecom and sanitation systems were also upgraded.

Ten years later the city was a global leader in business and quality of life, according to research by PwC, who pointed to the role of mega-event infrastructure in driving long-lasting improvements in regional development and liveability.

A significant challenge for New Zealand is how to lift domestic savings to fund investment requirements. Savings currently fall short of meeting our growing investment needs, and with savings falling, this is becoming more of an issue.

With a limited savings pool, and current account constraints, New Zealand has to be very targeted with what investment will be undertaken to ensure maximum payback. Notwithstanding this, investors are crying out for greater opportunities to assist New Zealand's infrastructure needs.

Adrian Orr, chief executive of the New Zealand Super Fund, recently said the fund was actively looking at projects to invest in, but there were limited choices of sufficient scale.

Aucklanders will be familiar with their city's aspiration to be the world's most liveable. Achieving this is sure to be a marathon and not a sprint.

But if we can harness the momentum we are now seeing, and plan and invest wisely - supported by central and local government working together with the private sector and the community - there is a historic opportunity to seize the region's "Olympic moment".

How we respond, and the resulting legacy, will shape our largest city for many years to come.