Northland councils have put in bids for infrastructure projects worth more than $1 billion as the Government prepares a mega-spend to combat the economic shock of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It's not yet known how many jobs will be created or which projects will get the nod, but Northland leaders hope the cash injection will help offset job losses expected to hit 3500 in the Whangārei District alone.
Earlier this month the Government asked a group of industry leaders to seek out infrastructure projects around the country which could be fast-tracked to boost the economy and create jobs in the wake of the Covid-19 lockdown.
The projects could be in the public or private sectors but had to be significant — the minimum pricetag is $10m — and ready to start in the next six months.
Councils were invited to submit their wishlists by April 14.
The Infrastructure Industry Reference Group, chaired by Crown Infrastructure Partners chairman Mark Binns, is now whittling down 2000 proposals from around New Zealand totalling $125 billion. The shortlist will be considered by top Government ministers in early May.
Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones said priority would be given to ''shovel-ready'' projects creating the most jobs in the shortest timeframe.
''We want to see regional spread, we want to see job-rich activity, we want to see things that will employ people and generate income that can move around the economy within nine months at the very latest.''
Jones said the final decision as to which projects got the tick would be made in early May by a select group of ''budget ministers'' comprising the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Finance Minister and Greens co-leader James Shaw.
The $125b of requested projects was ''a hugely intimidating figure'' but it also showed how well people had responded to the infrastructure rebuild and its importance in coming years.
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Finance Minister Grant Robertson had already identified $50b for a Covid response package but Jones expected there would be many demands on that money in the North.
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The Northland Regional Council's wishlist is headlined by a large-scale initiative to reduce sedimentation in the Kaipara Harbour.
A joint initiative with mana whenua and other councils bordering the harbour, the project would include planting on erosion-prone land and fencing waterways, take four years, create more than 200 jobs and cost $79.6m with the Government asked to chip in $56m.
In total the regional council's three projects, if accepted, would generate just under 250 jobs.
The Whangārei District Council's wishlist is topped by a $230m city revitalisation project and relocating Onerahi airport, said to have the shortest runway in the country. The cost of a new airport is not known but is estimated to be between $100m and $300m.
Kaipara District Council has submitted five projects worth just over $215m. They include significant stopbank, wastewater, bridge and road upgrades, and Mangawhai Community Plan proposals such as a shared path from the village to the heads.
The Far North District Council was unable to provide a list of its projects. The Advocate made the request last Friday.
The prospect of a major spend-up comes as a new Whangārei District Council report predicts the loss of 3500 jobs and a $197m hit to the local economy as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai said it would be ''like Christmas'' if the council's entire list was granted.
''It would provide the contracting fraternity with guaranteed employment for a long period of time, but the biggest impact is that it would give confidence that we've got jobs and a future for young people who are looking at training. So education providers would benefit from it as well,'' she said.
Kaipara Mayor Jason Smith said the first priority should be providing jobs and absorbing unemployment.
An economic analysis of the impact of Covid-19 in the Kaipara highlighted particular concerns for youth and Māori employment, he said.
Many projects requested by Northland councils, such as regional cycle trails and walkways, were already part of their long-term plans but the infrastructure spend-up could bring them forward.
Town centre redevelopments could bring wider benefits by instilling civic pride and encouraging people to shop locally, Smith said.
Northland MP Matt King said he wanted to see the Government invest in ''bread and butter stuff, not nice-to-haves''.
Top of his wishlist would be four-laning of State Highway 1 south of Whangārei and, where possible, three-laning further north and west to Dargaville.
King also wanted to see upgrades to basic infrastructure in towns which had the potential to expand but were held back because councils didn't want to, or couldn't, invest in basic services such as wastewater.
Whangārei MP Shane Reti wanted to see labour-intensive but productive projects given the go-ahead, in particular in construction, manufacturing and infrastructure such as water storage, water reticulation, roads and school buildings.
Before Covid-19 the construction and primary industries had been crying out for apprentices. That need would return at some point so people who retrained now could be in a good position later.
''If we can't get everyone a job, can we refocus and retrain them into what we think the jobs will be when we come out of this?''
Separately from the upcoming ''mega-spend'' Jones said the Provincial Growth Fund was working with councils on various smaller, short-term projects.
Attorney-General David Parker was considering options for speeding up resource consents for construction projects, for example by passing special legislation allowing the NZ Transport Agency or KiwiRail to issue their own consents.
While the Government's focus is on projects delivering jobs alongside infrastructure upgrades, the Greens argue the money would be better spent on nature-based jobs such as pest and weed control and riparian planting.
That would have lasting benefits and create more jobs than infrastructure projects such as motorway building, they said.