Infrastructure sector survey presents gloomy short term outlook (Image: Getty)
Infrastructure sector survey presents gloomy short term outlook (Image: Getty)

The BulletinApril 24, 2024

Gloomy vibe from infrastructure sector as RMA changes unveiled

Infrastructure sector survey presents gloomy short term outlook (Image: Getty)
Infrastructure sector survey presents gloomy short term outlook (Image: Getty)

A new survey says ‘outlook not great’ for those charged with building infrastructure, while RMA changes delight farmers and depress environmentalists, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

First RMA changes announced

Most people are aware that New Zealand has an infrastructure deficit and that accelerated infrastructure investment and removing “red tape” and regulation in the name of economic growth is front and centre for the government. Chris Bishop is the minister for housing, infrastructure, and Resource Management Act reform. In a speech to the Infrastructure Funding & Financing Conference late last month, Bishop said the prime minister views those portfolios as being closely connected. One of the things Bishop named as facilitating infrastructure delivery was RMA reform. Yesterday, the first tranche of changes to the Resource Management Act was announced. They remove some regulatory requirements for farming and mining, among other things. Notably, the requirement to comply with Te Mana o te Wai obligations (best understood as freshwater protections) to obtain resource consent has been removed.

Government ‘ends war on farming’ say Federated Farmers

Farmers seem very happy with the changes, particularly the repeal of intensive winter grazing and stock exclusion regulations. Federated Farmers declared that the government had ended the “war on farming”. The Green party’s environment spokesperson Lan Pham, a freshwater ecologist, said the changes would speed the decline of the natural world and fuel the climate crisis. “The repeal of winter grazing regulations will worsen the pollution in our waterways and increase the level of harm our animals are exposed to,” she said. Winding back freshwater protections would accelerate the demise of rivers and lakes – with 45% of rivers already unsafe to swim in, she said.

‘The vibes aren’t great’ — infrastructure sector

The new law, Resource Management Bill 1 (RM Bill 1), is expected to be introduced to Parliament next month. Bishop says the change will give certainty to councils and economic sectors and consent applicants, and sectors, including farming, mining and other primary industries. Certainty seems to be in demand at the moment, with the infrastructure sector citing a lack of it in a new survey, the upshot of which is surmised by BusinessDesk’s Oliver Lewis as “the vibes aren’t great” (paywalled). Survey respondents cite “the uncertainty created by big changes in political direction.” In the short term, when asked about the ​​government signals to increase infrastructure investment over the next 12 months, only 33% held a highly or somewhat confident view. 49.63% were either highly or somewhat unconfident. The longer term view (three years) is slightly better, with 44.28% saying they are highly or somewhat confident about government investment signals.

Question mark hanging over $6b infrastructure fund

It’s safe to say a lot of people are waiting on certainty signals from the Budget, which will be delivered on May 30. Conveying a sense of certainty for the infrastructure sector wasn’t helped yesterday after a question mark emerged over the $6b National Resilience Plan. As the Herald’s Thomas Coughlan reports (paywalled), the government accidentally released the name of a Treasury paper (“Discontinuation of the National Resilience Plan”), revealing that it received advice on wrapping up the plan in February. The fund was established in the wake of last year’s extreme weather events to “build back better”. $2.8b has already been allocated but as Coughlan writes, there are question marks over what will happen to the remaining $3.2b.

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