Advocacy and Engagement April Update

It has been a busy month on the policy and advocacy side of things, which has been squeezed around the very welcome ANZAC and Easter breaks. The Government’s legislative programme has shifted up a couple of gears and there seems to be a continuing smorgasbord of announcements, particularly as the first 100-day milestone approached towards the end of March. While some policy areas are starting to get some real momentum, there are others which are not a top priority for the Coalition Government and the work programme has been stopped but we are yet to see a phoenix rise from the ashes.

Regional Infrastructure Fund

In early April, INZ with our sponsors Marsden Maritime Holding and Beca hosted Minister for Regional Development, Hon Shane Jones, for a sellout session in Whangarei. There is a lot of interest in the $1.2 billion Regional Infrastructure Fund which was announced before Christmas. Details on the criteria for the fund will be announced after the 30 May Budget. There is a big drive to use Crown investment to leverage private capital as a key component of potential projects. The Ministers speech can be read here.

Legislation and other consultation

I’m sure a lot of our members and the sector as a whole have been preparing their submissions to the Environment Select Committee on the Fast-track Approvals Bill.  This one-stop shop approach aims to speed up the consenting process and streamline approvals for nationally and regionally significant infrastructure and development projects – we just don’t know which ones yet. 

A parallel process is now underway for the first fast-track approval project applications which must be submitted to the Ministry for the Environment by 3 May. These projects will be considered by the newly established Fast-track Advisory group who will make recommendations to the joint Ministers.  The selected projects will then be included in Schedule 2A of the Bill for automatic referral into the fast-track process. Other projects which could be included in Schedule 2B for consideration for fast-tracking at a later date when the project design is more fully formed.  

Submissions closed on 19 April and we can expect the Select Committee hearings to commence pretty swiftly once Parliament resumes after its recess. There has been a lot of interest in the Bill, both for and against, and a large number of submissions are expected.  The Select Committee is due the report back due 7 September. 

INZ is supporting the legislation in the interest of addressing the significant costs and time delays impacting on infrastructure development due to the current consenting and approval processes. A 2021 report for the New Zealand Infrastructure Commission / Te Waihanga estimated that current consenting processes for infrastructure projects cost $1.29 billion per year and that it took nearly twice as long to get a resource consent for key projects as it did five years before.  In the absence of a replacement for the Resource Management Act, we need to try and unblock the system.

We don’t think that environmental standards should be compromised though. Our recent report on the reinstatement of SH25A in the Coromandel identified that we can have speedy planning and delivery while achieving positive economic, social and environmental outcomes. You can read our submission here.

INZ has submitted to the Ministry of Transport on the draft Government Policy Statement on Land Transport 2024-34.  The biggest issue facing transport investment is the ever-reducing size of the hypothecated National Land Transport Fund. The Crown top up is more than $6 billion over the next three years, and while the introduction of road user charges for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles and increases in annual vehicle registration fees will stem the flow, a sustainable approach to funding will require a wider range of tools. INZ is pleased this intent has been signaled, and we look forward to seeing how alternative funding mechanisms are progressed. You can read our submission here.

INZ also submitted on the Electricity Authority’s consultation document on The Future of New Zealand’s power system which sought feedback on security and resilience issues in particular. The pitch of submission (which you can read here) was more strategic, including focuses on; proactively addressing resilience issues, improving data on the system, more standardisation, addressing the first mover disadvantage for new connections or line upgrade with a more standard and fairer approach, and looking at workforce capability and capacity.

Media engagement

Infrastructure continued to be of interest in the media  In late March, Nick Leggett, INZ CEO, called on politicians to agree a vision for New Zealand’s future (you can read his piece here).  The INZ and Brighstar Funding and Financing Conference held Te Papa also received a considerable amount of media coverage including Minister of Infrastructure, Hon Chris Bishop’s speech and a follow up interview with INZ Funding and Financing Working Group co-lead, Isabelle Whitehead (Plenary Group) by Business Desk.   

Funding and financing Working Group

The INZ Funding and Financing Working Group continues to make progress developing different procurement and financing arrangement that could be suitable for mega projects and also for smaller community and economic partnership projects or programmes in the health, education, defence, corrections and justice sectors. This work was discussed at the Infrastructure Funding and Financing Conference and the next steps will be to test the straw-person models with a wider group of INZ members at future workshops and some engagement with government entities.

We also met with the Helen Clark Foundation, a policy think tank, who have an upcoming report in the infrastructure space which is guaranteed to be a fascinating read and give us all some food for thought.