Big changes are needed in the way regional development is managed, according to New Zealand's $300 billion infrastructure industry.
That's according to Infrastructure New Zealand (INZ) chief executive Paul Blair, who said decisions about how and where development proceeded needed to be considered in a new way.
"We need world-class development," Blair said.
His comments were made in Whangārei last weekas INZ held its quarterly board meeting in Northland for the first time.
Board meetings are split between Auckland and regional New Zealand.
The INZ Whangārei visit was organised before the just-announced $1 billion government infrastructure spending into Northland, that latest development hugely boosting the importance of the visit and sector generally.
Blair said the Resource Management Act (RMA) needed to be replaced by a sustainable development act. There would be a set of national environmental standards.
Development would be able to proceed where it could meet those standards.
Blair said recent Government spending for Northland was undoubtedly good for the region.
But the North wouldn't be able to make the most of that spending if changes to resource management and other laws and regulations didn't happen.
"Without that it will reduce the positive benefits from the Government's infrastructure spend," Blair said.
He said decisions about the region's future development needed to be made on a regional basis.
Northlanders needed to think of their region as Northland Inc – one overall entity, rather than individual separate districts.
He said Northlanders' new Kia Kaha Northland social media campaign (to bring five huge infrastructure projects to the region), launched last week , was a great start to importantly developing a single regional voice for development going forward.
There was no longer a place for a specific local community to have a local parochial view of potential development.
Northland was a region and a project's benefit or otherwise needed to be considered with that lens. There was no place for Nimbyism.
Blair said it was also no longer okay to consider only environmental impacts in regional development decision making. Social, cultural and economic perspective was also needed.
One example of this in Northland might be the case where a large proposed development in a more remote rural area where resource management decision makers ruled it could go ahead because it offered significant social and cultural benefits – and only slight environmental degradation.
Blair said development was about considering the four wellbeings – social, cultural, economic and environmental, rather than making the latter the sole decision-making influencer.
Northland this week got New Zealand's largest per capita central government infrastructure funding spending into the region, Blair said.
At edition time, this covered roading, rail, schools, Māori land rating support, hospital, water storage, wharves, climate-change suitable horticulture, Māori education and business support, grants to Iwi, hapū and community conservation groups for pest control and natural habitat management, along with traditional waka navigation learning support.
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Decisions made around how the funded projects took shape needed to be made from this perspective.
That meant the Far North, Mid North, Kaipara and Whangārei all being involved in this regional consideration.
The fact that much of the infrastructure spend was physically focused on Whangārei didn't mean other areas missing out.
"There's no reason for example, why people from outside Whangārei couldn't commute there to work," Blair said.
Opua and Whangārei both had a marine construction sector. New development in this sector would usefully link these locations.
Government funding into Northland will bring significantly increased urbanisation for the region.
Blair said central government wanted to be able to have more of a say in how this urbanisation and development and management of the region's land happened.
The Resource Management Act at present denied this opportunity. Land use decisions were made at a local level. The government had a national urbanisation plan.
Spatial planning across Northland was needed to work out how development from government spending into the North and other regions took place.
Northland is currently New Zealand's least urbanised region - about half its population live outside urban areas.
Meanwhile Blair said there was now a lot of work to be done to bring Northland's new government spending injection to life.
The first of important next steps was for Northlanders as a whole to develop a vision of how they wanted the region to look and feel into the future.
This needed to involve all parties including central government, local government, industry, tangata whenua and the wider community.
A long-term 30-year plan for developing the region came next. This should involve organisations across the board such as district councils, electricity providers, local and national roading authorities, health and schools providers working together.
Regional development wasn't about any particular district council - communities did not much care about which council was doing what or know the difference between councils in location or type. They just wanted decisions made.
Other considerations in making the newly-funded Northland projects come to lie would be looking at project financing and delivery along with the regulations, culture and incentives.
Blair said other laws and rules also needed to change along with along with the RMA so Northland could make the most of the incoming government funding.
INZ's Whangārei meeting saw local and national heavyweights from New Zealand's $30 million infrastructure industry come together.
There was a board meeting, meetings with local government, a tour of new and potential infrastructure development sites such as Port Whangārei, the potential new Royal New Zealand Navy base and Onerahi airport – in the spotlight for possible shifting due to runway length limitations.
Blair said taking INZ board meetings to regions around New Zealand was an important part of understanding local infrastructure issues.
The group also toured the new Hundertwasser Art Centre site at Whangārei's Town Basin and heard from a range of top Northland infrastructure industry leaders.