Few would argue against the proposition that New Zealand needs seriously to invest in infrastructure over the next couple of decades.
High levels of congestion and ageing infrastructure hold back New Zealand's productivity and increase the cost of doing business, making our products less competitive.
Meantime, sitting in traffic reduces our quality of life, as does creaky wastewater and storm water systems that foul our rivers and beaches. The previous National Government significantly ramped up investment — think of the Waterview Tunnel, the CRL, the Roads of National Significance, the roll out of Ultra Fast Broadband — but we need to build on that.
We'll make progress if we do three things:
1. Develop a long-term pipeline that doesn't chop and change all the time
2. Focus on reducing the cost-structure of infrastructure provision in New Zealand, so we can get more for our money
3. Innovate with funding mechanisms, so we're relying less on Crown and council balance sheets.
On the first, sadly, we're going backwards, particularly in the transport space.
The Governor of the Reserve Bank, when he recently cut the Official Cash Rate to a record low one per cent to stimulate the slowing economy, mentioned the need for increased investment in infrastructure while money is cheap.
But the Government's major action in the transport infrastructure space has been to cancel or postpone a dozen major projects — several of which were ready to go — and replace them with projects that are not ready to go, and won't be for some time to come.
We would be progressing work on roads from Wellsford to Whangarei, Cambridge to Tirau, Piarere to Kaimai Range, Tauranga to Katikati, Napier to Hastings, Levin to Sanson, Christchurch to Ashburton, Wellsford to Warkworth, Otaki to Levin, East West Link, the Melling Interchange, Mill Road and Penlink.
These major roading investments would help unlock regional New Zealand and reduce congestion in our cities.
Instead the Government favours a slow tram down Dominion Rd in Auckland, which is yet to have any detailed design work or go through procurement or consenting processes.
So there will be less investment in infrastructure over the next couple of years. Budget 2019 showed over $3 billion has been shaved off projected infrastructure spending since predictions made just six months earlier. This has been driven by ideology — a point blank refusal to build new roads. Phil Twyford, the Transport Minister, believes the country has "overinvested" in roads and his Associate Julie-Ann Genter talks of not giving in to 'car fascists'.
The combination of ideology and incompetence means New Zealand is steering down the barrel of an infrastructure hole.
This links with the second point; reducing the cost structure of infrastructure provision. One of the best ways to get more bangs for our bucks is to have a clear, long-term pipeline that can attract global players to compete and encourage all players to invest in skills and machinery.
The lack of infrastructure projects in the pipeline today will lead to much of our construction capabilities moving overseas. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison just announced a $100 billion roading and rail investment package. Australia will need more construction workers.
Reform of the RMA and re-assessment of some of the other regulations that are adding huge costs to projects in New Zealand is, of course, also critical. It was an enduring frustration of the last six years of the National Government that we could not muster the numbers in the House for meaningful planning reform. The current government has come slowly to the party, accepting the need for something to be done. If they come up with sensible suggestions we will support them.
As for innovation in funding, the previous National government made some progress with PPPs, SPVs and other mechanisms — think of the Transmission Gully project; Milldale's housing development, as well as schools and prisons. We want to go further here.
As a country, we've been too conservative in the past. We'll be open to funding innovation where it gets quality long-lasting infrastructure built more quickly.
It's our goal, then, to set a clear, long-term overarching vision for infrastructure for the future, with a clear pipeline in place.
To that end, we'll work constructively with the Government on its Infrastructure Commission, noting however such an approach doesn't work if highly ideological positions are taken following each election. We'll do the regulatory reform and we'll press forward on funding innovation.
Most importantly, National will restore business confidence, revive our economy and lift our aspirations so that we can truly be the best little country in the world.
• Paul Goldsmith is National's finance and infrastructure spokesman.