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LGNZ calls on NZTA to sort itself out

LGNZ has taken the unusual step of publicly criticising NZTA for delaying progress on some of the country’s most expensive housing markets. Singling out Tauranga, Queenstown and Hamilton as examples, LGNZ president Dave Cull has called on the government to ensure internal issues at NZTA are resolved soon.

“Ongoing corporate restructuring at NZTA, coupled with a subsequent move to pull regional decision-making back to head office, has stalled many regional projects that are needed to open land for development.”

NZTA has been without a permanent CEO since Fergus Gammie tendered his resignation in early December last year and left the agency on December 31. Former Chorus CEO Mark Ratcliffe joined NZTA in January this year as its interim CEO until a permanent chief executive can be recruited.

NZTA had come under heavy criticism last year for not carrying out its regulatory function properly concerning warrants of fitness. Thousands of vehicles have since had to be retested.

Sources report that the issuing of dodgy WoFs has been linked to at least one death. William Ball died after the driver of the car in which he was a front seat passenger lost control and crashed into a ditch near Turiwiri, Dargaville.

In late September last year, the NZTA board engaged law firm Meredith Connell to work with the agency to identify, assess and review open compliance files. Compliance files relate to potential issues where an individual or operator may not be following the rules as set out in legislation. Open files are ones where the work required to allow them to be closed has not yet been completed.

The review identified approximately 850 open files as well as shortcomings in the agency’s regulatory function. The agency said a tougher enforcement regime would be implemented.

It is also understood many people had been unhappy with the tone and focus of the NZTA while Fergus was CEO. The agency’s insistence on speaking about high-level concepts – such as being on a ‘journey’ and ‘taking a holistic approach to a connected transport system’ – was in marked contrast to the more buttoned-down, practical language used by NZTA in the past.

LGNZ says the current state of affairs at NZTA is stalling housing developments and regional economies through the agency’s seeming inability to progress and/or release funding for vital roading projects.

President Dave Cull warns that any further stalling at NZTA will see construction capacity leave the regions because of uncertainty about when more work will come down the pipeline. “And that will hurt regional economies and communities most.”

LGNZ says that, in some of New Zealand’s most expensive housing markets such as Tauranga, Queenstown and Hamilton, local councils are battling to open land for housing development because they cannot get NZTA to commit funding to ready-to-go roading projects.

“Quite simply, you cannot open land for housing development without infrastructure such as drinking and wastewater and most importantly roads,” says Dave. “Local government along with NZTA are co-investors in this process.”

LGNZ cites Tauranga where improvements to SH29 have the potential to open land for 3000 homes in Tauriko West. It says the business case for this project, which NZTA described as a “strategically important link between the soon to be completed Waikato Expressway on SH1 and Tauranga”, was approved in 2016 but has yet to get off the books.

Dave says LGNZ regularly hears from other councils around the country about how the disruption at NZTA is clogging much-needed projects. These span major projects in some of the country’s largest cities and projects in the regions.

“Central government needs to realise the interconnected nature of housing and infrastructure. You can’t have one side of the equation misfiring without affecting the other,” says Dave.

“Local government has planned for, and budgeted for, these roads. Council money is literally sitting there ready to be put into action, but we need NZTA to sort out its issues quickly and come to the investment table.”

Meanwhile, CCNZ chief executive Peter Silcock says that although the civil contractors’ association agrees with LGNZ on its stance, some local authorities are just as bad.

He says some local authorities could substantially improve their project processes.

“Their published work pipeline could be a lot more realistic for civil contractors. There’s a lot of wishful thinking going on in terms of project planning, consent and funding.”

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