Cautiously optimistic

In February 2024, Gavin Myers, Magazine Editorial5 MinutesBy Gavin MyersFebruary 5, 2024

It’s mid-January, and just a few days ago, I wrote my first EDM editorial for 2024. The one thought that has been in my mind as we ramp up our activity and expectations for 2024 is what a difference a year makes.

The year 2023 kicked off with the prime minister’s resignation, some mudslinging between the then minister of transport, Waka Kotahi and two of our industry associations over potholes, and a couple of cyclones reminding the nation how fragile its infrastructure is. By February, we were recounting tales of horror, heroism and decisive leadership in the wake of the flooding and its long recovery, and the nation had begun to align its sights on the October general election.

By contrast, 2024 has just … started. Three months after Luxon’s win, there have been no shock announcements – at the time of writing, anyway – and the feeling overall can probably be summed up as cautiously optimistic.

Following the elections and before the final coalition was agreed on, I commented that Luxon’s years at international corporates could serve him well if he successfully translated that experience to his term in the Beehive. Indeed, he wasted no time acting with the decisiveness of a strong CEO and implemented National’s famed 100-day plan. It’s good to see the government act with vigour, whether or not we all agree with what it’s doing.

Much of this action has a direct impact on the road transport industry – amending rules for the setting of speed limits, repealing the ‘Ute Tax’/Clean Car Discount, binning Let’s Get Wellington Moving and Auckland Light Rail, and changing employment conditions, among others. It also seems there won’t be any new ferries bridging the Cook Strait any time soon, and vocational training via Te Pukenga is getting a shake-up. Most of this would seem to proffer positive outcomes, and you can read more about elsewhere in this issue.

Economic outlooks suggest conditions in the first half of the year might remain tough, but inflation and interest rates are expected to fall and GDP rise later on. For National, 2024 will doubtlessly be a year of action. It must be if the pressure on businesses and consumers is to be eased.

And if a leaf can be taken from the SH25A Book of Reconstruction, it’s that efficient and effective action is possible – and good. What Waka Kotahi and its contractors have accomplished defies what we’ve become accustomed to … a 124m-long, 15m-high bridge delivered ahead of time, under budget. All praise is well deserved.

As we know, the next big one will be SH1 Brynderwyn Hills, due to be closed for nine weeks from 26 February for “critical work to restore the road for the short to medium term”. It is an understatement to say this will be inconvenient, but a far stronger word would be needed if it’s not done and a similar scenario to SH25A results.

As I write this, Fulton Hogan and its subcontractors are outside resealing my street and a few others in the neighbourhood. According to the letter that was popped into my mailbox, the work is part of the council’s annual programme, and these roads “have been identified as at the end of their given lifecycle, and work is required to ensure they are watertight to prevent further deterioration such as cracking, potholes and other defects”.

Yes, it’s a simple job, small-fry compared with the others just mentioned. But as they say, ‘Focus on the small things, and the big things take care of themselves’. And, from what I can see, they have no more men, machines, or orange cones than one would imagine are needed to get the job done quickly and efficiently. (Which it was.)

NZTA has 216 current projects listed on its website right now – with more to come, I’d suspect. If these can be identified (down to the smallest), committed to and accomplished with the same decisiveness and vigour of the SH25A team – even of our local council and its contractors – 2024 could be one for the books.


Gavin Myers