New Commission key to healthy infrastructure industry

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The draft New Zealand Infrastructure Commission/Te Waihanga Bill is a positive step towards better and more efficient infrastructure planning and investment on a national scale.

But it needs fine-tuning to be successful in its objectives, New Zealand’s civil contractors say.

Civil Contractors New Zealand chief executive Peter Silcock says the national association for civil contractors strongly supported the creation of the Infrastructure Commission and its mission to improve the well-being of New Zealanders through quality infrastructure.

“The key is to get away from a boom-bust construction market and big swings in project priority caused by the central and local government electoral cycle,” Mr Silcock says.

“We believe the Commission has a major part to play in establishing a more consistent approach.”

Mr Silcock says it takes time for civil construction companies to develop the right skills and purchase appropriate equipment.

A well-planned forward work programme would allow contractors to ensure the right skills and equipment were on hand at the right time.

He says the Commission would also help New Zealand overcome its critical infrastructure deficit.

Its preparation of a coherent national infrastructure strategy, expert support to other agencies and departments, and ability to undertake in-depth investigations on issues such as funding, financing and procurement practices would give vital support to government.

‘Fine tuning’ needed

He said despite many positives enabling a healthy civil construction industry and better value for money, the draft legislation needed “a bit of fine tuning” to deliver to its true potential.

While it was important to promote the best course of action for New Zealand’s infrastructure networks based on the evidence available, it should not be tasked with “developing broad public agreement” — often a near-impossible task that could be a major drain on the Commission’s resources due to major differences in public opinion, Mr Silcock says.

“The Commission needs to cut through the debate. Rather than being bound to achieve political or public agreement, its job is to provide expert analysis that identifies and informs the best course of action.”

The Commission’s work also needed to encompass local government and council-owned organisations, who were a major partner in many civil infrastructure projects.

A complete pipeline of work enabling civil construction companies to invest in people, skills and equipment with certainty could not be developed without a national picture of local government infrastructure needs, he says.