ICBC NZ's Amanda Lu shares insights from the Infrastructure New Zealand-led delegation to Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai.

There is a well-known poem written by prominent Chinese poet Du Fu of the Tang Dynasty 770AD:
"How I wish I could have ten thousand houses, to provide shelters for all who need them and make the poor scholars beam with smiles! In wind and rain these shelters would withstand like mountains high."

While on the Infrastructure New Zealand-led delegation to Asia, I saw a calligraphy art piece of this poem hanging on the wall of Singapore's Housing & Development Board (HDB) gallery.

The poem explains the mission of the HDB as Singapore's public housing authority. They plan and develop Singapore's housing estates, building homes and transforming towns to create a quality living environment for all.

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Today, HDB flats are home to over 80 per cent of Singapore's resident population, with about 90 per cent of those households proudly owning their home.

The city-state has also built a variety of information and education hubs to help the public as well as professionals understand and appreciate the country's infrastructure strategy, city planning, urban development and architecture. The hubs provide an exciting, multi-sensory learning experience and space for the community to discover and participate in the story of the nation's planning efforts, telling the story of Singapore's remarkable physical transformation — past, present and future.

I was amazed by how the national vision was so deeply and proudly instilled into everyone's mind.

School students, private sector staff — or in fact anyone passing by on the street — could tell you a story about Singapore's infrastructure.

Each year, Infrastructure New Zealand leads a delegation of senior public and private sector leaders overseas to explore new ideas and approaches to delivering infrastructure.

During this year's two-week visit to Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai, I was fascinated to learn how these two countries (operating under three systems) have made their extraordinary rise possible, and how each government had kept pace with such rapid growth in improving national wellbeing.

They all identified infrastructure for economic, social and environmental sustainability as national priorities, and set out a vision-driven, pragmatic and implementation-oriented long-term strategic plan. This plan is well recognised, aligned and executed by all levels of governments and the private sector. People see themselves strongly connected to the nation's vision and value.

Singapore develops 40-50-year strategic concept sequencing with a 10-15-year Master plan.

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Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai. Photo / Supplied
Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai. Photo / Supplied

China envisions the two-stage missions by 2035 and 2050 respectively, which will be delivered throughout the implementation of every five-year plan. Those vision statements describe where the country aspires to be upon achieving the mission.

Some may argue that every country or city has its own plan, however, the difference I see is whether the strategy is reinforced by tying it to the goals of each region, city, company and individuals.

I see success coming from the power of a solid vision for future generations, and in developing an engaged dedicated society in order to make better infrastructure a reality.

One example of the incredible achievements happening in the region is the Greater Bay Area development.

The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area comprises the two special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao, and the nine municipalities of Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan, Huizhou, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Jiangmen and Zhaoqing in Guangdong Province.

High-speed trains connect nine Mainland China cities with Hong Kong and Macau — reaching a population of 68 million within half an hour of each other.

There are now around 80 pairs of high-speed trains running between Hong Kong West Kowloon and Shenzhen Futian/ Shenzhen North each day, with a travel time of just 14 minutes.

This compares to travel time of around 60 minutes when I first started working in Shenzhen.

The 41 pairs of high-speed trains from Beijing to Shanghai that can run at 350 kilometres per hour have shortened the travel time by train from 11 hours 33 minutes to 4 hours 18 minutes, and made the journey comparable to the 2.5-hour flight time (especially when you factor in travel to the airport and security processes).

But infrastructure in the region is not only about transport and jobs. It also includes climate change, clean energy, sanitation in urban areas, and much more.

High-speed trains connect nine Mainland China cities with Hong Kong and Macau. Photo / Supplied
High-speed trains connect nine Mainland China cities with Hong Kong and Macau. Photo / Supplied

China's participation in the non-binding Copenhagen Accord, continuing to its ratification of the Paris Agreement, means that China is positioned to help lead the charge against climate change:

• From 2005 to 2010: Chemical oxygen demand decreased by 12.5 per cent and sulfur dioxide decreased by 14.3 per cent.

• From 2011 to 2015: Chemical oxygen demand decreased by 12.9 per cent, emissions of ammonia nitrogen decreased by 13 per cent, sulfur dioxide decreased by 18 per cent, and nitrogen oxide decreased by 18.6 per cent.

• From 2012 to 2016: Energy consumption per unit of GDP declined by 20 per cent, water use per unit of GDP declined by 28 per cent, and from 2011 to 2015, CO2 emissions per unit of GDP declined by 20 per cent.

• From 2010-2016: sewage treatment rate in urban areas increased 59.1 per cent to 93.4 per cent, pollution-free treatment rate of household garbage in built-up urban areas increased from 38.4 per cent to 96.6 per cent, the area of green space in cities is up from 12.7 per cent to 36.4 per cent, sewage treatment rate in urban areas is up 59.1 per cent to 93.4 per cent.

ICBC NZ assisted with coordination of this year's visits in Beijing, including with the National Reform Committee, Ministry of Finance and Urban Design & Development bureaus.

In 2015 and 2016 we joined the delegations to Canada and UK respectively to learn from their experience.

From each of these visits, we can easily debate how the differences and challenges we have in New Zealand mean we cannot work in the same way as other regions. But now is the time for us to reflect on how we align everybody to take actions to move forward, and to define the nation's infrastructure strategy to take us into the future.

Mei Fern Johnson

Partner, Russell McVeagh

Mei Fern Johnson. Photo / Supplied
Mei Fern Johnson. Photo / Supplied

We need to tell our infrastructure story in a way that connects with the community that will benefit from it, including articulating the aspirations that can be achieved for that community from that infrastructure. The Chinese Government seems to have done this by setting a vision for its people, before working out how to deliver that vision.

Discussions about infrastructure focused only on costs and economic benefits do not capture the imagination, with the resulting apathy leading to investment in this sector being deprioritised and deferred for way too long.

The Chinese Government is attempting to narrow regional economic disparities through regional investment. This is one of the aims of our Provincial Growth Fund, but the infrastructure sector here, working with Government, could make wider contributions to regional communities, through more modern hospitals, better physical connections to jobs and education institutions, and more modern housing.

China has set criteria for prioritisation of infrastructure investment which provides certainty to industry, depoliticises project selection, and excludes pet projects. As infrastructure projects have such a significant impact on communities and the economy, we should lead investment decisions at a national level, with infrastructure experts working with regional representatives who know their communities.

Karl Nicholson

Executive Director — Project & Structured Finance, ANZ

Karl Nicholson. Photo / Supplied
Karl Nicholson. Photo / Supplied

Though not directly comparable from a political and central control point of view there were still valuable lessons and insights to be taken from visiting Singapore, Hong Kong and China.

Firstly, they all share a strong vision of their place in the world and what they are trying to achieve as a city or country and hence what is important from an infrastructure point of view. This vision is consistent across all parts of the public and private sector. What is New Zealand's vision?

Secondly, property has value which is increased when infrastructure is delivered to it. Hong Kong partially funds its underground network by developing the space above the stations. These methods could be employed with developments like CRL and light rail.

Finally, we all have constraints. Even Shanghai with a population of approximately 25 million has constraints and needs to make choices between growth, people and the environment.

Infrastructure takes time to plan, build and is multi-generational so a bipartisan plan is needed as opposed to projects that change from time to time. This enables communities to come along on the journey and resources to be allocated efficiently.