Saturday, December 2, 2023

Election 2023: Improving rural infrastructure

Neal Wallace
Farmers Weekly asks New Zealand’s six biggest parties to spell out their policies for the primary sector.
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Farmers Weekly asked the six parties currently represented in Parliament four questions. Five replied. Te Pati Māori did not respond. 

Today’s question: What will your party do to improve rural infrastructure? 

•  We have increased maintenance investment in our roads by 62% since 2017, after National sweated the assets by increasing the maximum weight of trucks by 21% and flatlining the maintenance budget. We will continue this approach because we understand how vital the state highway and local roading network is to rural communities and the economy.

•  We know how crucial it is to have access to reliable mobile and internet services. This is why Labour remains committed to ensuring that more rural homes, businesses and communities can access fast, reliable broadband connectivity regardless of where they live, study, and work. Mobile towers, funded by the government’s Rural Broadband Initiative, provide essential broadband and mobile coverage to more rural and remote communities across New Zealand.

•  The additional $43 million from Budget 2022 for further rural capacity upgrades means the government has now allocated over $100m to improving the capacity of rural broadband across New Zealand. This work will be completed within the next three years and will benefit around 69,000 households and businesses.

•  We will also partner with the private sector to double the number of public electric vehicle chargers through EV charging hubs every 150-200km on main highways and between 600 and 1000 EV chargers at community facilities in smaller rural communities. This builds on the more than 1300 EV chargers we’ve co-funded across New Zealand, growing our public EV charging network to the point that we now have fast/rapid charging stations at least every 75km over 97% of our state highway network.

The National Party will establish a Pothole Repair Fund to urgently address the shocking state of our rural roads and state highways. National’s Pothole Repair Fund will see an additional $500m over three years allocated to address potholes and other road damage. 

National will also improve resilience in our regions with priority transport infrastructure projects, including upgrades to roading infrastructure in Waikato, Otago and Southland. Red tape is also holding back investment in water storage, making it all-but impossible to invest in. Consenting processes often take years and can cost millions of dollars, affecting urban and rural areas.  We’ll make it easier to build water infrastructure by making water storage on farmland a permitted activity, so farmers can build larger-scale water storage infrastructure on farmland without a consent, though a consent to take water for storage will still be required. 

New Zealand’s infrastructure network is straining under the weight of population growth, creating major problems for rural connectivity. Ensuring reliable and efficient ways to get goods and services in and out of rural areas is essential, but the cost of delivering new roads and maintaining existing roads is high. 

ACT will use private-sector financing and expertise to get new roads built faster and to maintain existing roads quicker and more effectively. Overseas countries like Ireland have successfully made extensive use of this approach.

We’ll increase the availability and frequency of public transport to ensure that those in rural areas have other transport options besides driving. We’ll also re-allocate spending on new urban highways to walking and cycling, and public transport, so any spending on new roads is in the rural areas that need it the most.

On other infrastructure, we’ve committed to protecting all remaining natural wetlands and increasing funding for their restoration, acknowledging their role in reducing the effects of flooding during severe weather. We’ll also strengthen regulation of nitrogen in waterways, particularly drinking water sources, to ensure all water is safe to drink. We have also committed to creating a fair system for commercial water allocation that protects healthy flow levels of waterways, while opposing large-scale irrigation projects.

New Zealand First
New Zealand First proposes a dedicated Rural Infrastructure Fund. A more targeted version of the Provincial Growth Fund. It will enable investment in vital rural infrastructure like flood protection, water storage, aquifer recharge, bridges and regional ports. 

More broadly we will ensure that money earned in the provinces stays in the provinces and is not syphoned off to build giant white elephant projects in Auckland like light rail and tunnels under the harbour. 

We have a priority of fixing up our crumbling existing infrastructure, investing heavily in our rail network and strategic double laning over the whole country before attempting to build mega roads to benefit a just a few areas.

Tomorrow we ask, What will your party do to improve rural health including mental health services?

More: Read Question 1 here

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