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Artist’s impression of the new Marlborough District Library and Art Gallery in Blenheim – the project will receive $11 million in infrastructure funding from the Government’s Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund – Image courtesy of Warren and Mahoney

Editorial – August / September’20

How much longer can the industry hang on for the so-called and much-touted ‘shovel-ready’ infrastructure projects to get off the ground?

As I write this, Auckland has returned to Alert Level 3 lockdown after last night’s announcement from the Prime Minister and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield that four cases of Covid-19 had been detected within the community, with no known connection to overseas travel or an immediate link to a high-risk worker, such as those working at the managed isolation hotels or at our border.

The ‘team of 5 million’ had achieved 102 days without community transmission and life had returned to near-normalcy, but now there’s a very real risk that we may join those countries and communities around the world that are seeing a worrying resurgence of cases and a return to strict lockdown.

Until early August, Australia’s ‘curve’ largely mirrored our own – a surge of new cases in March, peaking late that month, then dwindling away to just one or two cases a day as citizens returned from overseas to managed isolation. Then, in early July, suddenly there were hundreds of new cases a day, mostly in Victoria, peaking at 721 new cases on 31 July (our highest was 78 in one day – back on 28 March).

With our borders closed, our economy is struggling and all predictions point to a deepening recession. To combat this, the Government ‘reoriented’ Budget 2020 to focus on maintaining critical support for existing public services and supporting key infrastructure investments, and on 1 July, Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones outlined how the $3 billion set aside for infrastructure in the Covid Response and Recovery Fund, established by Budget 2020, will be allocated across the regions.

The investment package includes around $210 million for climate resilience and flood protection projects, $155 million for ‘transformative’ energy projects, about $180 million for large-scale construction projects and $50 million for enhanced regional digital connectivity. Projects include the Auckland City Mission HomeGround which will provide housing, health and social services; the final section of the Coastal Pathway in Christchurch; Gisborne Rugby Park’s grandstand; an inland port at Whakatu for Port of Napier; and the Marlborough District Library and Art Gallery in Blenheim.

A total of 1924 submissions were made by local councils and businesses across the country to the Infrastructure Reference Group (IRG), which was established by the Government to identify suitable projects to support the economic rebuild post Covid-19. These numbers were reduced to a shortlist of 802, of which 150 have now been approved in principal.

However, although ‘shovel-ready’, these projects are proving to be slow to get going, and the industry has had enough of the delays, with Civil Contractors New Zealand chief executive Peter Silcock calling the current situation ‘incredibly frustrating’. “We know the work is out there, but unless we know where, what, and most importantly when projects will start, contractors are left totally in the dark,” he says.

“They will have no choice but to put workers off or face the risk of companies going under.”

Until next time …
Lynne Richardson, editor

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