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A Regional Approach to Infrastructure

Last week’s Building Nations conference, hosted by Infrastructure New Zealand, brought the ongoing conversation about how we plan long term and fund regional infrastructure to the fore.

We'd been mulling this over: with Budget 2023, the concerns of local businesspeople and our region’s growth projections in hand, we know that our approach to regional planning needs to change.

The Waikato is growing, and we need to plan and fund our infrastructure in a way that enables us to keep pace. Read on for our Chief Executive Fiona Carrick’s view of the best way forward.

As Aotearoa rebuilds following a summer of destructive weather events, the Government is having to make trade-offs as it decides its investment priorities for the coming years.

We know that from what we saw in Budget 2023: investment in transport network upgrades and expansions is tempered by money siloed for infrastructure repair and rebuild.

Waikato businesspeople are feeling markedly less confident about their business prospects than they were six months ago.

We know that 89% of respondents to Te Waka’s latest Business Sentiment Survey shared specific barriers inhibiting their business growth, with almost a quarter citing ‘reliability of supply chain’.  

Even so, the Waikato is well-connected, has a solid primary sector backbone and huge potential to embrace sector shifts around climate change – ours is an economic hub being powered up for the benefit of Aotearoa at large. We know that the Waikato is projected to be the fastest growing regional population in Aotearoa during the next three decades, at an average of 1% per year according to Statistics New Zealand.

As the regional economic development agency for the entire Waikato region, we also know that the way that we are delivering and managing infrastructure isn’t working.

It isn’t making inroads into Aotearoa’s infrastructure deficit, and it isn’t making the most of the expertise within the teams of people on the ground in our regions.

An example of an approach that has proven benefits is being implemented overseas with compelling results. Referred to as “city deals” in Australia and the United Kingdom, this approach sees central government doing investment deals with individual cities and regions, and the devolution of some powers and responsibilities from a central to regional level.   

The approach simplifies funding arrangements, giving local authorities the remit to look holistically at the factors necessary to generate prosperity locally and get to work.

Here in the Waikato, we’re considering how a more coordinated, regional approach could work for us. Given our proximity to major centre Auckland, and our part in the golden triangle alongside the Bay of Plenty, it is imperative that infrastructure is implemented optimally to enable economic prosperity.

We need alignment on infrastructure priorities of national significance, and an understanding of how each priority and project benefits Aotearoa.  As well as the roads and bridges that spring to mind, enabling infrastructure such as the country’s third medical school must also be considered.

Supporting towns and regions to flourish is named as a requirement for the future by Rautaki Hanganga o Aotearoa, New Zealand’s Infrastructure Strategy, which sets out a pathway to transform the country’s infrastructure over the next 30 years.

It also suggests using spatial planning to coordinate infrastructure delivery – we are eager to understand how this will play out in practice and watch the progress of the Spatial Planning Bill with interest.

Our view is that funding options need to be broadened alongside clearly defined regional infrastructure priorities that deliver national scale benefits.  We are pulling together a case from the Waikato’s infrastructure priorities and we look forward to sharing that this month. 

The summer’s weather events across Auckland and the Waikato demonstrated the importance of maintaining a diversity of economic hubs throughout the motu. The Waikato region is growing, and we want to grow sustainably. Trust us with the resource and authority we need to thrive, for the benefit of us all.

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