As the current COVID-19 crisis eventually starts to shift from lockdown to recovery, the phrase “never waste a crisis” springs to mind.
Already there is talk of a huge spend up infrastructure projects all around the country in a bid to help the economy and get people working. Although it’s not entirely clear how all these now out of work people are going to be able to quickly transfer to the construction industry to build all of this infrastructure.
But what we don’t build is just as important as what we do build and when combined with all of the other major issues we face we simply can’t afford to go back to business as usual afterwards. As such it’s imperative that the government also take the opportunity not to just build anything that comes up but to build things that will help us long term in addressing big issues such climate change, congestion in our cities and housing. This was a similar point made by Bernard Hickey recently as he encouraged the government to use this crisis as an opportunity to fund a once in a generation scale transformation of our country and economy.
However, it is also an opportunity to invest (let’s say $500b over 10 years) in our local economy, infrastructure and people to solve our underlying housing affordability and climate change crises. That would reassure businesses and consumers that there would not be a complete slump. It would also start solving some of the long term problems we know we have.
That means massive Government-led investment in public transport, affordable housing, education and health to be ready for when the global economy returns to life with much better wellbeing and productivity levels. Railway lines, apartment buildings, electric bikes, hospitals, schools and the like.
It’s hard to disagree with any of that.
This stimulus package will also be on top of the $12 billion NZ Upgrade Package announced earlier this year, which included $6.8 billion of transport projects. Notably, the projects making up the NZUP all tend to be fairly major ones that have long lead times for design and consenting. So much so that at least one is not even due to start construction till 2025.
With this new stimulus package we simply can’t afford to have people sitting around for 2-5 years waiting for that work to happen. This means it shouldn’t be comprised of a handful of big motorway scale projects but lots of smaller projects that are able to be quickly delivered all across the country. For transport we should also be looking to take advantage of lower traffic volumes to make much needed changes to our streets.
At the same time we probably need to rethink our assessment, approval and even construction processes. Far too often we’ve seen the business case process be used as a weapon against projects by overzealous officials. If we can address that as well as finding ways to speed up consenting we can probably see a lot more able to be delivered faster (and cheaper). We can also improved outcomes for construction too. In most projects, a huge amount of time, energy and money goes towards doing everything we can not to impact the movement of cars leading to a slow peel off of the band-aid instead of a quick rip.
Today the government have announced they’ve kicked off a search for infrastructure projects to fill the recovery pipeline.
The Government has tasked a group of industry leaders to seek out infrastructure projects that are ready to start as soon as the construction industry returns to normal to reduce the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford and Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones say.
The Infrastructure Industry Reference Group, to be headed by Crown Infrastructure Partners chairman Mark Binns, will put forward to Ministers projects from the private and public sector that are ‘shovel-ready’ or likely to be within six months.
However, the Government is also planning ahead for when that time comes,” Phil Twyford said.
“That’s why we are now developing a pipeline of infrastructure projects from across the country that would be ready to begin as soon as we are able to move around freely and go back to work.
“The types of projects the Government would consider funding include water, transport, clean energy and buildings. They would also have a public or regional benefit, create jobs and be able to get underway in short order,” Phil Twyford said.
The group, which includes NZTA chairman Sir Brian Roche, KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller and Infrastructure Commission chairman Alan Bollard as initial members, will work alongside the Provincial Development Unit (PDU) which has spent the past two-and-a-half years working with regions and is well-equipped to identify priority, shovel-ready projects up and down the country.
“The reference group will be seeking out larger projects, those with a value of over $10 million, which would have an immediate stimulatory effect on the construction industry, its workforce and the economy.
“Smaller projects will be considered if they demonstrate a direct and immediate benefit to the regional economies and communities in which they are based. In the meantime, the Provincial Development Unit will continue to work with local councils to identify regional roading projects, particularly in the identified surge regions, to provide employment and boost local economies.
Separately they’ve also announced they’ll be making advanced payments to “transport construction industry contractors” so they can retain their workforce over the coming weeks and are able to quickly re-start work again.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has kicked things off the response to the government’s announcement by listing a bunch of projects the council could look to to ask for.
“There will need to be a spread of projects across the country and Auckland will be just looking for a fair share of those projects, reflecting the 34 per cent of the country’s population and 38 per cent of GDP that the city represents.
“We will provide a smorgasbord of projects that can start quickly and which align with the government’s economic, social and environmental objectives.
“Council officers will begin immediately to draw up a range of proposals, with input from Ward Councillors and Local Boards,” says Phil Goff.
The proposals could include the following:
- Developing a rapid transit system to the North West
- Funding light rail from the City Centre to Mt Roskill and Māngere
- A fourth main trunk rail line constructed at the same time as the third to save costs
- Increasing NZTA funding proportions for projects such as the Matakana Link Road, which could start immediately, and the second and third stages of the Eastern Busway to Botany.
- Sped up construction of cycleways which could start immediately
- Bringing forward roading renewals currently at the back of the 10-year Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP)
- Creating a charging network and bus depots to accelerate electrification of the city’s bus fleet
- Funding local roads in new housing developments such as Drury
- Building infrastructure to allow intensive residential and commercial precincts around the new City Rail Link stations at Mt Eden, Karangahape Rd and Aotea Centre
- Funding underground fresh, waste and stormwater infrastructure in regeneration programmes such as Tāmaki, and new developments such as the Unitec site
- Bringing forward separation of wastewater from stormwater to clean up Auckland’s harbours
- Cultural and community amenities such as building a Pasifika and Māori cultural centre at Manukau, Te Papa North.
I would also like to see
- A faster and more widespread rollout of new and improved bus/transit lanes.
- Better train stations with improvements such as better shelter, improved station access, easier usability etc.
- Level crossing grade separation/removal.
- Demolishing the Dominion Rd flyover to free up the space for urban redevelopment.
- Busway enhancements to enable changes such as off-line fare payment and all door boarding.
- Building a fleet of electric ferries (why not have AT/NZTA own them and lease them out to the operators like happens with the trains).
- Rolling out a bunch of low traffic neighbourhoods.
I’m sure there are many more things that could be added to the list
Finally, no, just in case anyone is wondering this is not an April Fools post, that just doesn’t feel appropriate this year.