Te Waihanga Shows Way Forward for Overcoming Infrastructure Challenges

The New Zealand Infrastructure Commission Te Waihanga has given the Minister for Infrastructure a draft strategy for how infrastructure can support a thriving New Zealand.

"This strategy sets a direction for a net-zero carbon economy, cities that are affordable and easier to get around, a New Zealand that produces zero landfill waste, connected and prosperous regions, infrastructure that is resilient to the many shocks we face including the current Covid pandemic, and would make it easier to get things done," says Te Waihanga Chair Dr Alan Bollard.

"While we face challenges, there are steps we can take that would not only help us to overcome those but meet our aspirations and build a New Zealand that’s an even better place to live. Achieving this means not simply doing the same old but working smarter."

New Zealand has significant challenges and opportunities on the horizon

Te Waihanga Strategy General Manager Geoff Cooper says, "Over the next 30 years the number of people who call New Zealand home will grow significantly; at the same time we face a housing crisis, rising congestion and an enormous economic transition as we mitigate the effects of climate change. Our infrastructure system needs to be part of the solution, not the problem. We need it to be coordinated, responsive to change, adequately funded and technology enabled

"Underspending, restrictive planning and a just-in-time approach to infrastructure has contributed to unaffordable homes. We have a consenting system that slows the development of the infrastructure needed to meet our net zero-carbon goals. Congestion in our cities will grow worse without change to the way we plan and use our transport connections.

"In the past we’ve tried to build our way out of some of these problems. But the cost of building the infrastructure we’d need to keep up with demand and face future challenges would cost us about $31 billion per year, almost double what we spend now.

"We will need to increase infrastructure funding over the next 30 years, but there are steps we can take to close this gap by improving the way we make decisions, changing the way we pay for services to better manage demand, taking a longer term approach to urban planning, and removing barriers to building homes in the parts of our cities where there’s already infrastructure."

A better system to grow wellbeing and our economy

The draft New Zealand Infrastructure Strategy includes recommendations for a more efficient infrastructure system, identifying a range of tools for funding infrastructure, encouraging the uptake of technology, as well as actions to overcome labour challenges and improve decision making.

It also includes strategic recommendations for growing New Zealanders’ wellbeing, and addressing long-term challenges like climate change and population growth.

Recommendations include:

  • Considering congestion charging for some of Auckland’s busiest roads and the potential for getting better use of Wellington’s roads, while at the same time, funding public transport.
  • Increasing housing opportunities in areas with infrastructure access, reducing costs and increasing housing affordability.
  • Ensuring population and infrastructure planning are closely linked.
  • Consolidating multiple infrastructure capital funds.
  • Allowing for water meters to manage demand and encourage water conservation.
  • Preparing infrastructure for the impacts of climate change.
  • Helping councils to align infrastructure and planning decisions in areas where current boundaries don’t reflect where people live and work.
  • Reducing the amount of waste we create, particularly for products that can’t be recycled.
  • Increase technology use, including greater uptake of real-time data about infrastructure that can help with planning and maintenance, for instance, through digital twins.
  • Standardising planning policy across New Zealand and requiring New Zealand cities to plan for significantly more growth.
  • A material increase in funding to meet the infrastructure challenge and boost productivity, and options for ensuring that those who benefit most from infrastructure pay a fair share.
  • Streamline consenting processes, particularly for infrastructure that helps meet national objectives like a zero-carbon economy, and reduce the regulatory burden on construction materials.

Next steps

While a draft, the strategy sets out a proposed direction based on research and consultation. Te Waihanga is now awaiting feedback from the Minister and will consider this before refining the strategy for release early next year. Once finalised, it will be up to the government to respond to the recommendations and advice in the strategy.

In preparing the draft strategy, Te Waihanga has met with stakeholders and held public consultation. More than 20,000 New Zealanders also shared their views on infrastructure issues through its Aotearoa 2050 survey. The strategy is a living document, and Te Waihanga will update it every five years.

Read the Draft New Zealand Infrastructure Strategy