New housing infrastructure fund requires long-term thinking

In News4 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineMarch 25, 2021

New Zealand‘s national civil construction industry association has welcomed the Government‘s $3.8 billion Housing Acceleration Fund, but called for long-term thinking so infrastructure constructed through the fund can be maintained as well as constructed.

Civil Contractors New Zealand chief executive Peter Silcock, said it was ‘heartening‘ to see increasing recognition of infrastructure‘s role in enabling housing development, but greater consideration was needed around funding for maintenance and upgrades in the long term.

Increasing the housing stock sooner rather than later would require increasing infrastructure capacity and upgrades in the short term, so existing water, sewerage and roading networks were not stretched to the point of breaking under the strain of additions.

“This is not solely about building new infrastructure and unlocking more land for housing. It is also about upgrading and maintaining our existing infrastructure. The more branches you add to a tree, the bigger the trunk needs to be. If six apartments spring up where one house was, this puts more pressure on all the systems we use. The whole network changes.”

Silcock said short-term investment was welcome, but it was not the whole answer and the housing shortage could not be addressed without investing in upgrades and long-term funding for maintenance of infrastructure such as water pipes, roads and internet cables.

Most infrastructure is based around a central network, he said, with both infill housing and greenfields developments placing stress on New Zealand‘s aging networks. While some issues were being addressed through projects such as Auckland‘s Central Interceptor, this was not the case for many cities, towns and rural communities.

It was also important to recognise councils and other stakeholders would be asked to co-fund these projects, and fund future maintenance. It was great to see central and local government working together in new ways to make this possible.

With detailed design of the fund due to be completed in June and discussions with stakeholders such as local authorities, iwi and partners occurring after that, Silcock said it seemed unlikely a lot of this work would come to the construction market until well into 2022, especially given the delays in getting shovel-ready projects to market.

He said work conducted under the Fund should complement rather than compete with other infrastructure work, creating consistency of work for contractors and their staff.

“Whether it is new roads, energy networks, communication systems or freshwater, wastewater or stormwater systems, these are the foundations our communities are built on. We need more clarity on the timing and scheduling of the proposed work.”

More long-term thinking was needed to develop capability and capacity – thinking that was currently underway in initiative like the New Zealand Infrastructure Commission‘s Aotearoa 2050 project, which is currently open for public consultation.