NZ First Leader Winston Peters with his colleague, Regional Economic Development Minister, Shane Jones at yesterday's infrastructure briefing

It would seem highly likely that the Government has not finished making infrastructure announcements.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson has $4 billion of his proposed borrowing of $12 billion unaccounted for, and there is still one big infrastructure elephant in the room; the future of the Auckland port.

The announcement of a four-lane highway from Whangarei to Marsden Point, whilst it can be seen as phase one of the revived Whangarei to Wellsford four-laner, is also a clue that preparations are being made for the expansion of the port.

There is another hint in the failure yesterday to announce anything about the proposed floating dry dock’s location; whether it be Picton or Whangarei.

The port proposal is being driven by New Zealand First who see it as a critical lever to help them increase their vote in their Northland electorate strongholds

POLITIK understands that a decision might be expected to be made in tandem with any decision about the future of Whangarei port. And that should also include the shifting of the Devonport naval base to the northern city.

POLITIK NZTA chair Sir Brian Roche with NZTA general manager of transport systems, Brett Gliddon.

There are  five inter-linked decisions:

  • A four-lane highway from Whangarei to Warkworth
  • The location of the floating dock
  • The future of Devonport naval base
  • An upgrade of the Whangarei to Auckland rail link
  • The future of the ports of Tauranga, Auckland and Whangarei.

And so yesterday Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, announced the first of those; a $692 million 22km four-lane highway from Whangarei to the Marsden Point roundabout o be completed by 2027- 28.

This will; mean that just over half the 158 km State Highway One from Auckland to Whangarei will be four lanes. It also leaves another 8km from the roundabout to the port to be four-laned.

POLITIK Environmental Defence Society CEO Gary Taylor and Auckland Mayor, Phil Goff at the briefing

Meanwhile, POLITIK understands that talks between Regional Economic Minister, Shane Jones and Auckland Mayor, Phil Goff, whose Council owns the  Auckland port, over its future are to be stepped up.

They will take place against a background of a Government which effectively yesterday did a “u-turn” on its previous refusal to countenance major road-building projects.

Yesterday’s package includes:

  • $411 for the 7km Penlink connections between Whangaparaoa and State Highway One to be finished by 2025.
  • $1.4 billion to four-lane the 21.5 km Mill Road connection between Drury and Manukau, due for completion between 2025 and 2028.
  • $423 million for an extra lane between Drury and Papakura to be completed by 2025.
  • $932 million for extra lines and extensions to the Auckland suburban rail network to be completed by 2024.
  • $478 million to four-lane 6.8 km Tauranga northern link
  • $455 million to build a new 7km four-lane highway from Te Puna to Omokoroa near Tauranga to be finished by 2027.
  • $817 million to continue the Kapiti expressway 24km to north of Levin to be completed by 2029.
  • $211 for Wellington regional rail upgrades.
  • $159 million for roading upgrades in Canterbury.
  • $90 million for roading upgrades in Queenstown.

There were also announcements about $10 million to replace coal-fired boilers at some schools and hospitals and another $300 million for various new health facilities.

Despite this, and although Ardern was joined by Greens Co-Leader  James Shaw (and six other Ministers) at the announcement at Chapman Tripp’s law offices in Auckland, the Government came under almost immediate attack from Greenpeace.

Their climate and energy campaigner, Amanda Lawson said there couldn’t be a worse time to build “expensive and polluting roading than now.”

“ From an economic point of view, it’s a bad investment because we already have cleaner and more efficient ways of getting people where they want to go,” she said.

POLITIK The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern speaks at the briefing

Clearly, the Prime Minister was alert to this sort of criticism, and she told journalists that the new projects and the rail expenditure along with earlier expenditure on cycleways and public transport would get cars off the roads.

“I would remind you that we need roads in order for our buses to move,” she said.

“We need, of course, cycle paths alongside them and we need walking capacity as well.

“This package provides that.

“We also need space for low fuel emission vehicles and our electric vehicles to travel on too.

“This is a future proof package and the roads of the future, need to accommodate different modes of transport.”

Auckland’s Mayor, Phil Goff, however probably got more precisely to the point of the package when he acknowledged that the work in Auckland would probably produce even more disruption than the city currently faces.

But it would be worth it.

Without it, he said there would be more and more disruption because the city would be gridlocked.

”So, yes, construction work creates disruption, but gridlock creates even greater disruption,” he told POLITIK.

“And gridlock takes you nowhere.

“Construction takes you to a better future.”

But there is one big question lurking behind the package; does the construction industry have the capacity to deliver it.

Even officials at the briefing conceded that this was “the big question”, but Ardern (and Finance Robertson) hinted that there was an element of calling the industry’s bluff in the Government’s approach.

“The industry has called for these projects,” she said.

“They’ve asked for the certainty we’re delivering.”

Officials believe that the pipeline of projects announced yesterday – stretching out for another ten years — will give the industry the confidence to invest in more plant and equipment and the training of staff.

POLITIK MInisters James Shaw, Grant Robertson and Phil Twyford with the Prime Minister at the briefing

 

Perhaps the most interesting announcement yesterday was that the Ministers responsible for the various aspects of the programme — including Deputy Prime Minister, Winston Peters — would all report to Grant Robertson.

This would seem to be part of a trend already evident this year of the Prime Minister selecting proven Ministers to run things as she did with Health Minister David Clark taking over management of the Coronavirus response from his associate, Julie-Anne Genter.

Robertson has been under pressure from Reserve Bank Governor since the middle of last year to take advantage of record-low interest rates to spend up big on infrastructure and thus hopefully forestall any slowdown that the economy might experience over the next few years.

However, he was keen to talk up the strength of the economy yesterday.

He produced a chart showing that New Zealand’s growth rate was expected to exceed that of Australia, the USA, the UK, Canada, Japan and the Eurozone this year and next.

Not only are there important projects to be done, but the economy is in good shape,” he said.

“When we compare ourselves to the rest of the developed world, we are forecast to do better than virtually all of the countries that we trade with.

“So the time is right for us

Borrowing costs are also near historic lows, around one point five per cent for ten years,” he said.

“It makes sense to take advantage of this and invest in infrastructure to boost our economy.

“The 12 billion dollar New Zealand upgrade programme will boost growth and create a significant number of jobs, even in just the first year.”

Robertson claims that it will create between seven and nine thousand jobs over the next year.

National Leader, Simon Bridges, correctly made the point that most of the projects had originally been proposed by the National Government (in which he was Transport Minister) but had been scrapped by the incoming Labour-led Government in 2017.

“After two and a half years Jacinda Ardern’s Government has realised it has no infrastructure ideas of its own that it can deliver on, so it has copied the plans I put in place when I was Transport Minister,” he said.

“It’s quite flattering, really.

“It’s just a shame that an entire term of Government has been wasted by tearing up these plans and putting them back together again.”

POLITIK Winston Peters with NZTA chair, Sir Brian Roche

Winston Peters, predictably, was not going to let National get any credit for anything, particularly the key four-lane highway from Whangarei to the port turnoff.

“We remember who the minister of transport was back then because he’s the National Party’s current leader and he’s quoted in today’s papers as saying, what I’ll say I”ll do, “ said Peters.

“The sad thing about that statement is that it is bovine scatology when it comes to the issue of transport and infrastructure.

“Mr Bridges, let me put this question to you.

“How many dollars did you set aside for the four late highway the four ll lane highway from Whangarei to Marsden Point,?”

Or for that matter from Whangarei to Warkworth how many dollars were set aside?”

This a complex argument about the timing of funding decisions and also the sources of funding. National, unlike Labour, was willing to consider public, private partnerships for some projects, thus obviating the need for taxpayer funding.

But what was more revealing in Peters comments was his apparent support a four-lane highway from Whangarei to Auckland, which Labour dubbed the “holiday highway” when National proposed it when it was in Government.

He knows that the four-lane highway is a key condition to enable the Auckland port to shift to Whangarei, which is now becoming the number one item on NZ First’s political agenda.

Expect to hear more about it later this year.

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