With just 44 days to go until the election, Infrastructure New Zealand has released its next tranche of policy position statements. These documents act as the starting point for the important conversations that we need to have to improve the current state of play in our sector.
We know Aotearoa New Zealand faces a number of challenges to meet current and future infrastructure needs. The challenge we put forward is the need to change our political, planning and funding systems to deliver better long-term, sustainable outcomes for New Zealanders.
We can do better at building resilient, sustainable infrastructure, leveraging digital technologies to build, maintain and use infrastructure assets and creating certainty for the sector so it is able to prepare more effectively to deliver the infrastructure New Zealand needs. In this tranche, we address those issues.
This release includes a paper on pipeline certainty, which describes how uncertainty around our project pipeline makes it challenging for the sector to plan and invest in the resources it needs to address our infrastructure gap.
Our pipeline suffers from uncertainty over project timing, funding and outcomes which is driven by a range of factors including changes in government policy, delays resulting from inefficient legislation and limited capability within government in relation to decision making and infrastructure procurement. This creates confusion for industry, limits its ability to invest in labour and capital, and limits the number of potential suppliers for projects.
A clear, certain and deliverable pipeline is essential for the wellbeing of Aotearoa New Zealand. This means minimising the influence of political changes on the delivery of core and life-supporting infrastructure. Moreover, project sequencing that avoids market participants competing for the same pool of labour and encourages companies to invest in training and productivity is critical, as is progress on getting skills that can’t be sourced locally into the country.
An infrastructure priority list is needed alongside independent advice on what’s most important for the country. The Government can do more to strengthen and depoliticise decision making. The Infrastructure Action Plan includes an action for Te Waihanga and the Treasury to work on the development of an infrastructure priority list.
However, this needs to happen much sooner than 2026 as currently planned. It is also not clear if this list will include independent advice for infrastructure prioritisation to build consensus on key projects and initiatives that address significant long-term problems as originally envisaged by the Te Waihanga.
We recommend that the Government:
- accelerates the development of a clear and certain pipeline of infrastructure projects to provide confidence to the sector
- empowers Te Waihanga | the New Zealand Infrastructure Commission to provide independent advice on the infrastructure priority list to build consensus on key projects and initiatives.
Harnessing digital tools
The second of our three papers in this release outlines that New Zealand is not effectively leveraging the value of digital, geospatial and data technologies to address our infrastructure deficit, resilience and decarbonisation priorities, or opportunities that deliver existing infrastructure investment more efficiently.
Gains have been made overseas, and we have some great pockets of work here in New Zealand. Among others, in Wellington, the Virtual Wellington digital twin programme and planned underground asset mapping work provide significant scale and an opportunity to learn from city-wide models. At the project level, innovative digital engineering is already delivering efficiency gains in the construction of Auckland’s City Rail Link. There are also plans for a digital twin of Auckland’s centre city.
It’s time to scale these initiatives nationally, but at present data is siloed, and a lack of coordination and interoperability of data standards is hampering progress. With record infrastructure investment underway, the time is now to move digital enablement forward. This will require strong leadership, and a willingness from the sector to collaborate.
Central Government has a key role to play in making sure that progress on asset data standards development is properly resourced, implemented and supported. As a major procurer, it should also apply a consistent approach to building and infrastructure development through its procurement rules. Agencies might require geospatial data collection and modelling for all new build and major renovations in their property portfolios. National consistency on the required data provision expectations and data standards on major projects would then be baked into contracts from the beginning, giving contractors the chance to build capacity to respond over time. This will require upskilling by the Government as a client to ensure the data provided will be used.
Progress on this programme of digitisation also needs a home and clear governance arrangements. We recommend that Te Waihanga drives national consistency in this area by coordinating fragmented efforts to improve the data requirement and provision environment.
Climate resilient infrastructure
We know our existing infrastructure is no longer fit for purpose. The impacts of recent weather events have exposed the fact that most of New Zealand’s infrastructure is old and ageing and ill-equipped to handle New Zealand’s changing climate and more frequent extreme weather events. Most of the infrastructure in our cities, and that making up our critical lifeline connections, was constructed to handle the more benign weather conditions and volumes of rain that existed 50 or more years ago. It is evident that extreme weather events, once considered a one-in-100-year or more occurrence, will now continue to strike with greater frequency and ferocity.
In our third policy position paper – climate resilient infrastructure – we highlight the need to plan and build new infrastructure with climate resilience and sustainable development front of mind. New Zealand also needs to take a proactive risk management approach to our existing infrastructure networks and facilities by assessing the risk of climate-related flooding, slips, erosion, and coastal inundation. Based on these assessments, sector plans need to be developed (where they do not already exist) and a long-term funding plan to build more resilience into our infrastructure needs to start now. Opportunities to leverage private funding and financing options should be provided for too. This challenge is too big for the Government to undertake by itself.
We need the right legislation and organisations in place and we need to have an honest conversation about building residential housing, business and public infrastructure in areas at risk of extreme weather now and in future. Constructing new developments and infrastructure with climate change-friendly design will often be easier than retrofitting ageing infrastructure in existing communities. Relocation of some critical infrastructure links or facilities and some communities may be required.
New Zealand needs legislative provisions to enable communities to address the complex issues associated with climate change and managed retreat. We urgently need the climate adaptation legislation to provide the foundations for us to change our planning policies to match today’s weather patterns, or we put the future of our communities at risk. A framework to address the inevitable funding question is a key component of this.
There also needs to be clear accountability and oversight by the Government to assist with future recoveries and rebuilds, particularly given the ongoing nature of climate-related events and the geographic spread of these. The systems established to facilitate and fund recovery efforts and the lessons learnt need to be harnessed, and we need to ensure they contribute to future recovery efforts.
We recommend that the Government:
- commit to fully fund New Zealand’s emission reduction plans and develop infrastructure resilience plans for all sectors, including established funding for these, with private funding opportunities
- progress climate adaptation legislation as soon as possible to enable communities to address the complex issues associated with managed retreat. Establish a new central governmental organisation to oversee climate change event recovery and rebuilds and ensure there is ongoing adequately funding available.
As we continue to develop more of these documents, we invite you to be part of the conversation about how we work together for the benefit of the sector. Please get in touch with us directly to suggest, and discuss, topics for future policy position papers.