Transport Minister Simeon Brown

The Government’s redraft of the Government Policy Statement on transport brings back funding for roads and cuts funding to public transport, rail, coastal shipping and activities like cycling and walking.

Most notably, it is restoring the previous National government’s “Roads of National Significance”.

It is the first real indication of how the coalition government intends to focus on practical boosts to productivity rather than restricting the emphasis with road transport to lower emissions and reducing road accident deaths.

And Prime Minister Christopher Luxon is talking about new ways of financing infrastructure which POLITIK understands could include Chinese involvement.

The big winner is Northland, which is to get three more sections of State Highway One converted to four lanes, which means the Auckland to Whangarei section of State Highway One will eventually be around 70 per cent four lanes.

And perhaps most importantly, one of the three sections will be a new route around rather than over the Brynderwyn Hills, a road that is currently closed because of repairs being made to slips from Cyclone Gabrielle.

The trucking lobby was delighted.

“Over the past few years, our members were disappointed to see revenue from vehicle users diverted into unproductive investments in rail, coastal shipping and walking and cycling, while the condition of the roads continued to decline,” said TransportingNZ CEO Dom Kalisih.

“It’s great to see Minister Brown committing to turning this around despite challenging fiscal constraints.”

Early in the Ardern Government’s first term, the four Northland Mayors came to Wellington to lobby for a four-lane expressway from Auckland to Whangarei.

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Labour Ministers had called the road from Auckland to Whangarei a “holiday highway” while the Mayors tried to point out it was the north’s economic umbilical cord.

They were turned down by then-Transport Minister Phil Twyford, who instead said the Government would upgrade the Auckland- Whangarei rail line and add a spur to Marsden Point.

It would also undertake safety improvements on the two-lane stretches of State Highway One.

The rail link to the port has yet to be built, leaving Northland Regional Council chair, Geoff Crawford, to complain to the recent National Party Blue-Greens Forum, that Northport was the only port in New Zealand without a rail link.

But the new Government’s approach to road safety is different. Though it is proposing only a very slight drop in spending on road safety, it is promising to be much more aggressive in road policing with (presumably) higher traffic fine income as a consequence through the setting of what sounds like ticket targets.

“The Government Policy Standard (GPS) will guide the development of performance targets for Police set through the Road Policing Investment Programme, with enforcement targets relating to speed, alcohol breath testing, and roadside drug testing,” Transport Minister Brown said yesterday.

And the Prime Minister was also pointing in the same direction.

“We will keep New Zealanders safe on our roads, with a stronger focus on road policing and enforcement,” he told his post-Cabinet press conference yesterday.

But the new roads are being built partly on the back of big cutbacks in some of Labour’s favoured programmes, particularly public transport.

Brown’s press statement unveiling the GPS said it committed up to $2.3 billion for public transport services and $2.1 billion for public transport infrastructure over the next three years.

“Delivering reliable, effective, and efficient public transport is a priority, particularly in our main cities of Auckland and Wellington,” he said.

In fact, National is proposing to spend nearly half a billion dollars less on public transport services over the next three years than Labour and almost $1 billion less than Labour was proposing on public transport infrastructure over the same period.

Much of this money was allocated for urban rail improvements, but also schemes like the now defunct “Let’s Get Wellington Moving” are included.

Apart from emphasising roads as agents of economic growth, the GPS also points to another key National Party policy: bringing in private sector funding to help build infrastructure.

“This will include people’s public private partnerships, increased use of tolling, build own operate, transfer equity finance schemes and value capture to generate additional revenue and deliver infrastructure in a more efficient manner,” said Brown.

“We’ll have a separate agency, a national infrastructure agency that will actually set up and be the interface by which they’ll assess the funders that are coming in,” said Luxon.

“I just put it to you there’s a huge amount of pension money sitting around the world.

“There’s also a huge amount of money now and pools of capital sitting within domestic New Zealand that would like to be invested in infrastructure,”

Luxon has previously indicated he would be open to Chinese investment in New Zealand infrastructure, and POLITIK understands that the Chinese Ambassador has had a private discussion with him about possible Chinese involvement in any New Zealand infrastructure programme.

Luxon was asked yesterday whether he would have any concerns about Chinese involvement in an infrastructure programme.

“Whoever it is that actually wants to invest in infrastructure, we’ll have a good process to make sure our national interests are upheld,” he said.

“And good checks and balances that they can be the right fit for the right project.

“But it’s important that we now start to experiment, not just expand, but actually use these tools, because the choice is, what, we wait to 20, 60 years to get a new highway built if it means that the New Zealand taxpayers pay for it all, when in fact, there’s a completely different way of building and owning infrastructure.”