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The government’s 100-day plan – a mixed bag
The implications are numerous for the professional consulting industry in the coalition government’s 100-day plan (the plan) released in December 2023. Harrison Grierson’s Executive Director and National Land Development Manager Campbell McGregor looks at how the plan will affect the professional consulting industry and what the next three years could look like for Aotearoa.
Campbell says the government’s self-proclaimed "ambitious" plan will have a real impact on the professional consulting sector and its partners, and believes there’s a lot to be excited about and achieve.
Planning and housing
The Resource Management Act (RMA) lives to see another day under the plan with the pending repeal of newly minted legislation such as the Natural and Built Environment Act and the Spatial Planning Act.
Campbell says the plan takes a band-aid approach with the proposed RMA amendments intended to make it easier to consent new infrastructure, renewable electricity generation and housing, as well as allowing "farmers to farm". He likens it to a fast track, one-stop-shop consenting process for projects of national and regional significance – much like what happened during covid.
The Medium Density Resident Standards (the standards) have also come under the microscope as the government proposes to give councils greater flexibility regarding three-storey dwellings.
Campbell notes that previously these types of dwellings could be built in any residential neighbourhood regardless of amenities and access to infrastructure. Although initially brought into fast-track the consenting of new homes, the standards didn’t include basic urban design and planning practices about how to create a great neighbourhood and community. Campbell comments this meant that, under the legislation, councils were either at the whim of the standards to ensure enough services were delivered to these new homes or had large "carve outs" aka qualifying matters under the legislation, which largely defeated the legislation’s initial purpose.
He notes councils now have the option to opt out of the standards in areas that don’t make sense and suspects many tier one councils will look at the plan and change their processes this year to retain a focus on urban consolidation and intensification around centres and major transit nodes.
Campbell believes it’s a mixed bag for infrastructure.
He says the withdrawal from Let’s Get Wellington Moving and Auckland Light Rail is a significant U-turn for public and private sector clients but considers there is new hope for other transport projects, including roads of national significance and new public transport priorities. He thinks the key issue for the industry is the vagaries of the political cycle once again affecting infrastructure priorities.
While the government’s commitment to begin work on the new National Infrastructure Agency is promising given its intention to coordinate government funding, connect investors, and improve funding, procurement, and delivery, Campbell believes the agency who currently operates in this space, Te Waihanga – New Zealand Infrastructure Commission, will be impacted. He says the industry needs a clear and strategic direction from all political standpoints, and a long-term plan is essential to enable New Zealand’s needs to be met with appropriate resources and skillsets in a timely and cost-effective manner.
From an energy perspective, Campbell considers doubling New Zealand’s renewable energy production is a lofty goal given 87% of electricity generation in 2022 was from renewable sources like hydro, geothermal, solar and wind. He notes generation increased to 95% last summer following high rainfall and hydro inflows.
New Zealand was divided over the proposed centralised Three Waters regime. With the plan pledging to replace it with the Local Water Done Well policy, local authorities throughout the country are having to revisit their long-term plans and infrastructure strategies. Campbell comments that with councils having the dual realities of debt levels hard up against debt ceilings, and inadequate rates revenue and other revenue levers to pull, more collaboration will be needed between local authorities as well as more "off balance sheet" solutions.
Although not part of the plan, Campbell says councils are proactively positioning for opportunities with the "city deals" approach the coalition is proposing. Popular in the United Kingdom and Australia, city deals are long term regeneration, development, social and economic outcomes between central and local government with negotiated revenue methods. Campbell says packages of priority look to be transport, housing, and infrastructure projects, and he suspects it’ll take a year or two to get this off the ground.
Not included in the plan but part of the coalition agreement is the commitment to establish a new Regional Infrastructure Fund with $1.2 billion in capital funding over three years. While some are dubbing this the Provincial Growth Fund v2.0, Campbell expects (and hopes) there will be clear differences in priorities and accountabilities.
Public department rebranding
Although not a specific action in the plan, one of the more contentious actions of the new government has been reverting to English names first for numerous government departments which primarily use names in Te Reo.
Campbell comments that changing the naming order primarily seems like a cap tip to historic thinking. For example, he says Waka Kotahi, an early adopter of a name change, has, with time, become synomonous with this terminology. He believes this also would have occurred with some of New Zealand’s lesser known entities, and that this minor concession was a small acknowledgement of the country’s rich cultural heritage. Campbell says that while we often take national pride in our bicultural heritage, this reversal seems to be an example of perhaps celebrating our culture when it suits.
He also notes that while this was a public sector starting point, the private sector and industry very much followed suit with its broader acknowledgement of Te Ao Māori and the benefits a Māori world view can bring. He considers these principles will not be easily unwound and will continue to positively impact how we view development and engineering solutions in creating and improving the urban environments within which we reside.
Overall, Campbell says the plan presents some good thinking for New Zealand’s industry alongside a mix of rear-view mirror actions. He says Harrison Grierson will be working with central and local government to ensure the needs of its clients and every day New Zealanders are met because, at the end of the day, it’s about the people.
He believes the exceptional people working in the professional consulting industry will bring these projects to life and says demand for the industry’s services will be more important than ever.