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The NZ Infrastructure Commission will help coordinate infrastructure planning and provide advice and best-practice support to infrastructure initiatives

New independent commission to tackle infrastructure issues

New Zealand’s new independent infrastructure body, the Infrastructure Commission – Te Waihanga – will be established as an autonomous Crown entity to carry out two broad functions: strategy and planning, and procurement and delivery support.

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Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones says the new commission will help ensure the government makes the best decisions about infrastructure investment to improve the long-term economic performance and social wellbeing of the country.

“The commission will develop a broad consensus on long-term strategy, enable coordination of infrastructure planning, and provide advice and best-practice support to infrastructure initiatives,” Mr Jones says. “We want the commission to be a well-respected public voice that has credibility among the private and public sector, and helps integrate across our entire infrastructure system.”

The minister says New Zealand is facing “an unprecedented infrastructure deficit” that the government is committed to tackling. “Our transport and urban infrastructure is struggling to keep up with population growth, increased demand and changing needs, including transitioning to a low-emissions economy. New Zealand’s regional infrastructure is often not at a standard required by communities – this infrastructure deficit is manifesting in housing unaffordability, congestion, poor-quality drinking water and lost productivity.”

The Treasury estimates that net capital spending in the next five years will be more than double that of the previous five years, with the government investing about $42 billion through to 2022. “With this level of investment, we want to make sure we take a longer-term view and make decisions that align with our priorities to build a productive, sustainable and inclusive economy and improve the wellbeing of all New Zealanders,” Mr Jones says.

Building consensus

Infrastructure New Zealand – the country’s peak infrastructure body – has welcomed the announcement of the new commission, saying that it is especially pleasing that it will be an autonomous Crown entity, not a department of the government.

“Independence is vital to ensuring the commission can form its own views on infrastructure matters, and build political and public consensus on New Zealand’s infrastructure needs and investment priorities,” says Infrastructure New Zealand CEO Stephen Selwood.

Infrastructure New Zealand CEO Stephen Selwood: “This is a fundamental and much-needed change to the piecemeal way we have traditionally approached infrastructure analysis, investment and delivery in New Zealand”

“New Zealand has a track record of underinvestment, particularly in transport, water and social infrastructure. Failures in planning, funding and delivering services in a timely way have led to congestion in our growing cities, unaffordable houses, water shortages, ‘boil water’ notices, polluted water bodies, leaky schools and hospitals, and weak resilience to climate change and natural hazards,” Mr Selwood adds.

“The commission will lead thinking on these and other important public policy issues to help identify and coordinate solutions. It will provide transparency of the infrastructure pipeline and promote integration of infrastructure and development.”

Project delivery

Mr Selwood expects the new commission to assist in project delivery. “We often take for granted how difficult it is to plan, fund, purchase and deliver a multi-billion-dollar project consisting of multiple contracts over many years in a way which produces a single, coherent and effective service. Specialists at the Infrastructure Commission will provide councils, DHBs and other public agencies with the support and advice needed to engage the market, manage transparent and competitive tender processes and deliver best-value solutions,” he says.

“This is a fundamental and much-needed change to the piecemeal way we have traditionally approached infrastructure analysis, investment and delivery in New Zealand. Poor, changeable and unpredictable project sequencing and procurement is destabilising the industry. The result is underutilisation of highly skilled staff and the loss of critical skills overseas – the same skills desperately needed to address New Zealand’s agreed infrastructure backlog,” he adds.

“The Infrastructure Commission will not – and should not – be able to prevent changes in policy, but by interfacing with the market and major clients, it will be able to influence policy through an understanding of broad sector needs and issues.”

Informed decision-making

Civil Contractors New Zealand has also welcomed the announcement. “The Infrastructure Commission’s key role of providing impartial, expert advice to inform infrastructure decision-making will be essential in tackling the country’s infrastructure deficit and providing better information about planned work,” says chief executive Peter Silcock.

“Having an independent body is likely to result in a stronger, better planned and more consistent pipeline of infrastructure work. This will enable contractors to better utilise resources, encouraging greater investment in our people, new technology and productivity.”

Mr Silcock says similar infrastructure commissions in countries such as Australia and the UK have resulted in better long-term planning which has helped overcome skills shortfalls by creating more consistent workflow.

“The commission’s roles supporting procurement and delivery, setting best practice in the procurement process, and providing a ‘shop front’ for projects, will give better value for money for construction projects, businesses and workers,” Mr Silcock says. “An independent infrastructure commission will go a long way to reducing the impact of political swings and divisive debates that have stood in the way of progress.”

Legislation to establish the commission is expected to be introduced in April. Subject to the legislative timetable, the aim is for the commission to be operational by October.


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