Wednesday, February 16, 2011
  Demands in city pipeline
Published NZ Herald February 16

With the super city a reality, there is a hunger for some big projects to turn Auckland from a disconnected series of villages into a properly functioning metropolis.

"City shaping is primarily transport. Other infrastructure tends to follow," says Stephen Selwood, chief executive of the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development.

Big projects include: completion of the western ring route, including the Waterview tunnel, over the next five years; completing the inner city rail route, the final piece of the commuter rail in the city; and the Auckland-Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI) to improve connections between Auckland's south eastern suburbs and Manukau.

If that's done by 2025, a new harbour bridge needs to be built.

Mr Selwood believes getting consent will likely be a bigger challenge than engineering and construction.

"If you add up all those projects and consider conventional funding, existing taxes, road user charges and so on, there is a $5 billion funding gap over 20 years," he says.

"The only way to bridge that is user pays on the roading networks. Though councils and government can borrow, there are limits."

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The projects will call for professionals, including engineers, construction workers, lawyers and bankers.

There will be operations and maintenance staff to manage the new infrastructure.

"The industry has no reservations about its ability to meet that need and it has a track record of expertise and capacity," Mr Selwood says.

"Five years ago there were questions about how it would cope with the increase in workload with current projects, but it has not been an issue. Things were tight at times, but it managed.

"Any cost increases have been the result in the change of scope of projects, rather than the inputs."

The strong caveat, says Mr Selwood, is that there needs to be certainty of timing, phasing and funding for the industry to be confidence enough to invest in the people and training required to get up to speed.

"It's not fair on people if a workforce has to be laid off because there are gaps in the pipeline. We can't afford that socially or economically."

"These are big projects on a global scale, so there is global interest. Chinese, French and other European firms are among those looking, but their interest will be conditional on there being that certainty.

"We have a tendency in New Zealand to find reasons why not. We say we don't have the money, we don't have the resources. If you say that, that's what you get."

He's worried the new council may come up with a motherhood and apple pie spatial plan, rather than trying to tackle real questions about what needs to be done and how it will be funded.

At Auckland University's Centre for Infrastructure Research, director Dr Jim Bentley is looking for ways to improve how infrastructure is built and managed.

As a former chief executive of Metrowater, Dr Bentley has personal experience of running an Auckland infrastructure service provider.

"I perceived it was difficult to find the right knowledge and skills to make good infrastructure decisions across their range and across their lifecycle," he says.

The challenge is often measuring value for money - reducing wastewater overflow onto beaches is good, but how much is it worth to society? How good does a solution need to be? Fixing 90 per cent of a problem may be enough, or all a city can afford.

"Answering those sorts of questions needs more than an engineering, construction or planning approach. It needs all of those things together," Dr Bentley says.

The centre also pulls in expertise in economics and management.

Dr Bentley says critical infrastructure decisions are often made by mid-level managers rather than at the boardroom or senior management-level.

Giving those managers value-for-money tests and tools can have a big impact on the public purse.

In Auckland, the fact there are now single organisations with regional responsibility for water and transport should allow for more integrated planning and development.

Dr Bentley says the centre wants to establish executive education teaching broader decision-making for managers.

"I think there is a gap there rather than with engineering skills.

"We have competent engineering schools, but the gap is turning those engineers into good infrastructure decision-makers."
By Adam Gifford | Email Adam
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