By Claire Edmondson, Chief Executive Officer

In this Building Nations special edition, I need to start by thanking our sponsors, speakers and attendees for such a successful event. We’ve been thrilled to hear attendees found the sessions insightful, informative, thought-provoking and rewarding.

Many of you told us this was the best Building Nations conference you had attended, which the Infrastructure New Zealand team and Board are hugely encouraged by – though it’s set a high bar for Building Nations 2022!

The key challenges ahead, identified by members polled throughout the four days of Building Nations, loom very large in front of us.

In 2022 Infrastructure New Zealand will be focusing strongly on those key areas of concern – the infrastructure deficit and how it will be funded and financed, climate change and the role of infrastructure to mitigate impacts through sustainable infrastructure, and attracting talent and retaining skills.

They are big issues that will clearly shape Infrastructure New Zealand’s work programme well beyond next year.

As well, we’ll also be working to support diversity in the sector, an area we think the sector has much to gain from, and which we’ll be looking to bring forward with purpose.

The Government has committed $57b over the next five years to a raft of large infrastructure projects, but the Infrastructure Commission’s Draft Infrastructure Strategy warns that if we continue as we are, we can expect the costs of infrastructure to grow significantly without necessarily meeting New Zealand’s needs, including population growth and climate change. Building the infrastructure we need would mean doubling what we spend to about 9.6% of GDP over 30 years – about $31b a year. The Government expects to table a final strategy in Parliament early next year.

The review of the Resource Management Act, subject to the biggest shake-up since it was enacted 30 years ago is still progressing, and the clarity it aims to provide is some way off yet. As we saw at Building Nations, how the three proposed pieces of legislation are interpreted will be a vital part of successful infrastructure outcomes in the future.

Debate on our Three Waters infrastructure – that by one apparently conservative estimate will cost at least $185b to fix – is ongoing. Infrastructure New Zealand supports the Government proposal for reform because the status quo won’t solve the problem. While there is broad agreement change is needed, as yet there is no clear path ahead.

Local councils around New Zealand form a huge part of our sector, and face helping communities adapt to the effects of climate change, with a huge amount of work being done to identify vulnerable infrastructure that will require further investment. Public-private partnerships have for years been an ongoing conversation but an increasingly important one – the Government cannot pay for it all, and private investment needs to be an attractive option if we are to make the progress we need to.

Greater diversity – of people, thought and experience – and welcoming and learning from that can also aid our progress. Infrastructure is just one sector where women and other groups are under-represented. We need to challenge that, because we simply will not make progress if we rely on people who think like – and maybe look like – most of us.

Meeting those challenges – and the costs attached – is what’s needed to deliver a reasonably resilient infrastructure network well-placed to meet whatever challenge comes next.

The bottom line is that our infrastructure is considerably behind where we should be. The bill is mounting and the clock is ticking.