Hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of planned infrastructure projects around Northland are set to be reprioritised, with those promising the most jobs in the shortest timeframes likely to be fast-tracked.
The plan comes as unemployment in Northland is expected to increase significantly as businesses shed staff or fold during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones has also revealed the Government is considering how to speed up projects once the lockdown is over by, for example, passing special legislation or allowing Kiwirail and NZTA to issue their own consents.
''Northland will suffer grievously unless we turbocharge and regard job creation as something akin to a Grand Prix race,'' Jones said.
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As of the end of February, more than $476 million had been committed from the Government's Provincial Growth Fund to Northland projects. Another $1 billion had been pledged to the region from a $12b government infrastructure spend-up announced in January.
Some PGF projects, such as wharf upgrades in the Bay of Islands, have been completed but Jones has been frustrated by the slow pace of others.
Ministers would meet on May 1 to decide the new priority rankings.
Projects which were ''shovel ready'' and would create the greatest number of jobs in the shortest time would be fast-tracked to absorb the unemployed back into the economy.
''We need to impose on ourselves harsh deadlines. We spend far too much time on process.''
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Projects which had made no progress for a year or more could end up being shelved.
Jones said options being considered this week for avoiding Resource Management Act delays included special legislation allowing ministers to issue consents, as was used to build Wellington's Pukeahu war memorial, or allowing NZTA and Kiwirail to ''self-consent'' projects costing less than $20m.
The first Northland project to be granted PGF funding was the Waipapa roundabout on SH10. The Government considered the project in December 2017 and the site was blessed in January 2019, but progress so far amounted to ''a few road cones and scratches along the side of the road'', Jones said.
''Projects like that need to proceed with absolute pace. We have also agreed to fund roundabouts at Kawakawa and Puketona. These are relatively small projects but, unless we get them started really quickly, there's a danger many of our Northland families will be consigned to the dole queue while planners and resource consent officials move at a snail-like pace.''
Jones said the Government had also been asked to fast-track plans to rebuild Whangārei Hospital. Those requests were being forwarded to Mark Binns, the new chairman of Crown Infrastructure Partners, for consideration.
Whangārei mayor Sheryl Mai said a targeted stimulus package would be critical for putting money in Northlanders' pockets once the lockdown was lifted.
Her council was working on a long list of shovel-ready projects, targeting road and rail construction, in particular.
She also hoped the Big Five projects promoted by Northland mayors would get ''the big tick'' as part of government stimulus spending. The Big Five are a dry dock, navy base and car/container port at Northport, a four-lane expressway from Whangārei to Auckland and double-tracking of the Whangārei-Auckland railway line with a new spur to Marsden Pt.
The council was also proposing a clean-up of streams and rivers, which would have environmental and employment benefits, and a boost in pest control.
While a new airport would be a ''big ask'', Mai said the council was investigating possible sites.
Air New Zealand was likely to focus on domestic travel in the foreseeable future but the airport at Onerahi, with the shortest runway in the country, was unsuitable for larger, more efficient aircraft.
Northland MP Matt King said the project with the biggest impact would be the four-laning of SH1 from Whangārei to Marsden Pt. It could start quickly and provide work for forestry workers hit first by the downturn in log exports to China and now by the lockdown.
King said one forestry firm in Dargaville alone had 70 diggers and other machines that could be put to use building roads at short notice.
He also wanted to see the next stage of the motorway north of Warkworth speeded up.
''We could get hundreds, if not thousands, of people working on these projects,'' he said.
Plans to four-lane SH1 from Whangārei to Marsden Pt at a cost of $692m were announced in January's infrastructure spend-up but no firm date was set at that time.
Treasury officials have predicted unemployment across New Zealand could rise from 4 per cent before the lockdown to "well into double digits" as border closures and the Covid-19 lockdown force businesses to close or lay off staff.
Northland's unemployment rate was 5 per cent in November 2019, well down on the 7 per cent recorded in March last year.
Northland commissioner Eru Lyndon said the Ministry of Social Development's focus in the coming months would be making sure Northlanders received the financial assistance they needed.
MSD was also supporting business owners with the Covid-19 wage subsidy and giving advice on where else they could get support, while re-deploying workers to help fill jobs in essential industries.