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Opinion: Christmas hasn't come early for infrastructure industry, despite Government's extra $12 billion spending pledge

Santa or the Grinch?

Auckland motorway (file picture). Source: istock.com

Anyone hoping to hear the news today their desired local roading project will be funded in the Government’s promised big infrastructure spend will be sorely disappointed.

The Finance Minister promised to splash the cash when the books were opened in the half year fiscal update.

Grant Robertson is vowing to spend $12 billion more than planned on fixing neglected hospitals, schools, roads and rails. He insists there are "shovel ready projects" about to be funded and he’s just "dotting the I’s and crossing the Ts" before announcing them.

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But he’s failed to identify one single shovel ready project. Or even reveal how many of those will be started next year. Given the Infrastructure Commission has a list of over 500 projects, worth  $21 billion, Mr Robertson could’ve plucked a few of those out of the hat and said work would be starting soon.

The latest 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton poll showed a massive majority of those polled wants the Government to spend on things like infrastructure, education and health. Seventy-seven per cent said go for it, while just 14 per cent of people want tax cuts.

The infrastructure industry has been crying out for certainty around projects. They want spades in the ground, cranes in the sky and diggers working hard. Several big jobs will come to an end in the next 18 months and to keep workers and investors here – rather than heading across the ditch – the industry wants the Government to stop talking about what it’s going to do and get on and do it.

Heading into an election year, voters too want and need to see action. 

If you live in Northland and you want a four-lane highway to help connect you to the rest of the country, even seeing work being started on that would make a huge difference to voter and business’ confidence.

Most of this new money will be spent on roads and rail and as anyone waiting for the City Rail Link to be completed knows, these are not projects that are completed quickly. Delaying the start of these even further will just add to those frustrations.

And what about housing and water? The country’s water infrastructure is neglected, rusty and in some areas putting people’s health at risk. Councils are crying out for more funding to fix their infrastructure, but there’s no money here to give them a helping hand.

Funding new infrastructure is a good thing. No one is disputing that.

This spending will be a boost to the economy and productivity, if it’s good quality spending. But promises aren’t enough, people need to see the benefits.

Call me cynical but waiting until next year to announce these projects looks like an election year bribe. There’s no early Christmas for the country’s infrastructure this year.