As the penultimate speaker for Building Nations 2050, Australian based EY Partner, Rodd Staples reflected on the importance of leaning into uncomfortability and engaging with communities and industry to deliver sustained community value through infrastructure projects.

The previous Secretary of Transport for New South Wales, gave Sydney Metro and Newcastle’s regeneration projects as examples of where being bold and working closely with stakeholders created much better outcomes than could have otherwise been achieved. Rodd explained that ceding some control to communities and industry groups on the Newcastle project was central to gaining community support and buy-in to the important regeneration outcomes of the light rail project.

He demonstrated the critical role that community engagement has to play and highlighted that projects should be delivered not only on time and on budget, but also must involve people and communities in the process. Rodd told us he believed this was about facilitating the conversation with communities rather than one-way communication, which takes courage and a willingness to get uncomfortable during project implementation.

To close the conference, delegates then heard from a panel of transport and infrastructure spokespeople from across Parliament, including Minister Michael Wood, Chris Bishop, Simon Court and the Honourable Julie Anne Genter which was facilitated by NZME Business Director – Fran O’Sullivan.

To kick off the discussion, the politicians were asked to outline their respective parties’ key infrastructure priorities. Key points of commonality included cross-party agreement on congestion charging and the need to use our existing infrastructure more effectively as well as some agreement on the value of alternative funding and financing tools and the need to depoliticise the project pipeline to some extent.

On funding and financing, Minister Wood highlighted the Government’s introduction of the Infrastructure Funding and Financing Act 2020, while Chris Bishop outlined National’s position that New Zealand must use private capital above and beyond this to meet the infrastructure deficit. He highlighted the success of the current Government’s education public-private-partnerships and committed to supporting their use if National is elected in 2023.

Julie-Anne Genter suggested the use of PPPs is just a way of removing the costs from the Government’s balance sheet so that they look like they’re borrowing less. Minister Wood then highlighted that, ultimately, the capital has to be repaid by taxpayers and ratepayers and that the discussion of private financing is a discussion of when they must pay and how the project is financed. He encouraged the audience not to consider private financing as it is sometimes represented – as free money.

On the topic of the Three Waters reform programme, Simon Court expressed ACT’s opposition and disappointment with the lack of engagement with their proposed amendments.

Chris Bishop outlined National’s position that change was needed in the water infrastructure sector, but that their opposition to co-governance and the retention of local ownership were bottom lines for the party’s opposition to the four-entity model. He suggested that a middle ground on the entity design could have been reached between the parties but noted that the Government is unwilling to move on the number of entities and co-governance arrangements.

In response, the Minister highlighted that Māori have established interests in water in New Zealand, and reiterated earlier comments from Minister Grant Robertson’s during the conference that if there wasn’t co-governance involved, that the proposed changes would end up in the courts.

During questions from the floor, the panel discussed the Government’s rail projects and work to decarbonise the sector. Julie-Anne Genter and the Minister disagreed with National’s view that the Emissions Trading Scheme should be primarily relied upon to reduce emissions, with Julie-Anne Genter highlighting the need to provide realistic transport alternatives to private vehicles if the cost of emissions-heavy transport is to rise.

A huge thank you to the speakers, sponsors and delegates that joined us in Wellington for Building Nations 2050. We look forward to progressing many of the clear themes that permeated the conference, through to our work programme for 2023.

In June next year, we plan to turn the ambitions that this year’s speakers have laid out into action. At Building Nations 2023 we will look at the practicalities of delivering the infrastructure that New Zealanders urgently need within the context of massive system change and commit to bold action as we head into a national election – progress that can’t wait.

Join us at next year’s Building Nations on 7 – 8 June 2023 in Christchurch at Te Pae Convention Centre to debate and discuss the move we urgently need to make – from ambition to action.