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As we wait to hear which of the shovel-ready projects submitted to the Government will be progressed, do we need to change our thinking around the priority of ‘essential’ infrastructure?

Editorial – April / May’20

Construction has been one of the first industries to come roaring out of the blocks post-lockdown, with worksites opening again as soon as they were permitted to, albeit with rigorous guidelines for managing the health and safety of workers at a time when keeping others at arm’s length is necessary rather than desirable.

The Government has made it plain that it considers the construction industry to be one that will drive the country’s economy forward, allocating $3 billion for infrastructure development in the recent Budget – on top of the funds already allocated under the NZ Upgrade Programme and Provincial Growth Fund – plus free training and apprenticeships to get people back into work.

Now we wait to hear which of the projects submitted to the Infrastructure Industry Reference Group – established by the Government to collate ‘shovel-ready’ infrastructure projects from across local and central government and the private sector – will be progressed. Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones has called it ‘the largest ever infrastructure and construction stocktake the nation has ever seen’. They come from right across the country and include water, transport, housing, environment and health.

But during the lockdown, the way we worked, travelled, and procured goods and services changed dramatically. Traditional industries heavily oriented towards face-to-face delivery – think doctors and teachers – suddenly found their mode of delivery was impossible, and switched almost seamlessly to a technology-based model of service.

Likewise, our roads suddenly emptied. People took to walking and biking. Everyone other than essential workers turned to working from home. Thankfully our broadband systems were up to the task and while we all consumed many more gigabytes of data, very few lines actually failed.

The point is, the way we prioritise infrastructure investments needs to change. In Aurecon’s excellent ‘Just Imagine’ blog, senior tunnel engineer Christopher Howard argues that “our umbilical cord to the outside world is our communications networks. Along with freight systems, it is our data and voice services that are keeping our daily lives and economies running.”

He suggests that it is the infrastructure that is ‘tucked away’ – electricity networks, server rooms with data racks for accessing cloud-based information, water and sewage systems – that is the most essential.

“In the tension that often exists in the project world where there are limited funds, budgets have tended to favour spend on the more visible or functional components of a project,” he says. “While we quickly get back up to speed and get people back into jobs to produce goods and services that consumers have been starved of during the crisis, we will really see the value of the investment we have made in ‘unseen’ infrastructure.”

You can read Chris’s full blog here:

Until next time …
Lynne Richardson, editor



P.S. This edition of NZCN was due to be published in April, but Covid-19 put a stop to that. Now here we are six weeks later, publishing in a world that has utterly changed. Not even Hollywood could have scripted what has happened over the last two months.

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