Protecting land for infrastructure: How to make good decisions when we aren’t certain about the future

About this report

This report examines how we can manage the impact of rising land prices on infrastructure project delivery. It finds that designation or acquiring land for infrastructure in advance can make it cheaper and easier to build the infrastructure we need, from neighbourhood schools to major public transport routes.

Our current ‘wait and see’ approach often means that valuable infrastructure doesn’t get built at all. By the time we need a new school or a better transport route, the right sites for that infrastructure are gone – they’ve got houses built on them. Planning ahead and protecting sites in advance can break that vicious cycle. Protecting land needed for future infrastructure keeps our options open and can be easily reversed – we can sell the land if it is ultimately not needed.

Key points

  • This report identifies and tests methods that can potentially be used to determine when advance site protection is warranted in New Zealand.
  • It models different scenarios using case studies of advance site protection for a small project – a school for a growing suburb – and a large project – a major rail line extension. In each case study, we considered three broad options for acquiring land to build the project: advance purchase, obtaining an option to purchase, and wait and see.
  • These case studies show that:
    • advance site protection can be beneficial even when it is uncertain when, or if, a project will be built
    • in some cases, advance site protection may need to occur decades before projects are built
    • a ‘wait and see’ approach to land acquisition often means that needed infrastructure doesn’t get built
    • analysing uncertainty is a powerful tool to decision-makers, but more guidance would be needed to put this into practice.