Inclusive infrastructure investment for a better New Zealand

Expected returns of infrastructure investment now extend to well-being measures such as social connection, sense of community, employment opportunities, quality housing, and access to health and education services. Phil Harrison, WSP Technical Director Transport, explores how transport infrastructure can deliver positive social outcomes.

 The 2020 budget committed to ensuring that New Zealand has modern infrastructure that supports our transition to a more productive, sustainable and inclusive economy. GDP growth isn’t correlated with improvements in wellbeing [1] and, like many developed countries, we’re looking beyond the traditional narrow metrics of financial prosperity to measure productivity.


Covid-19 has intensified the importance of infrastructure investment as we look to find ways recover the economy, while staying focussed on the wellbeing of our team of five million. 


The guiding lights are bright. The UN Sustainable Development Goals and the New Zealand Living Standards Framework both prescribe to the notion that infrastructure plays a fundamental role in helping to reduce inequality, drive productivity and increase wellbeing. So how do we do this?


We need to practise inclusive infrastructure investment.  Inclusive infrastructure enhances positive outcomes in social inclusivity and ensures no individual, community, or social group is left behind or prevented from benefiting from improved infrastructure.[2] These are projects that deliver better access where it is needed most, equitable public services, social connectivity, decent employment, and digital connectivity, while prioritising the environment rather than merely considering it. 


Let’s start with a topic close to my heart – viable transport options beyond the car. Access to employment, education and leisure activities should not be limited to those that have the means or ability to drive. Transport provision for all New Zealanders means investment in high-quality public and active transport enabling everyone including lower income New Zealanders, the disabled, the young, and the elderly to access public amenities with the same or better ease than those who are able to drive. It is about removing the barriers that deprive elements of our community to live and prosper.


Two of the projects I have led in my time at WSP have delivered this particularly well.


Auckland Transport’s AMETI / Eastern Busway is a fine example of improving transport accessibility and choice by offering attractive alternatives to car travel. Not only does it dedicate space for the busway, cycle and walk ways, it is a catalyst for economic growth and regeneration for Botany, Pakuranga, Panmure and the surrounding areas.  


The first stage, which included the new Panmure bus/rail interchange, has resulted in massive growth in rail boardings at the station from 200,000 per year in 2013 to over 900,000 in 2019. Community input during the design stage resulted in better non-transport outcomes such as the remediation of the ecologically important Van dames Lagoon recreation area. Media reports and land agent publications show that uplift in local land prices for both residential and commercial zoned areas has been substantial since construction of the project started in 2011. A New Zealand Herald article in December 2015 (Colin Taylor, 2015) stated “The completion of the first stage (of AMETI) has already made a noticeable economic impact in the suburbs of Glen Innes, Mt Wellington and Stonefields” and “Twelve months after the completion of the first stage of AMETI there has been a rapid growth in residential developments in the area.”


The Waka Kotahi Northern Corridor Improvements project is another example where the provision of better transport infrastructure for buses, walking and cycling alongside relieving a major motorway bottleneck, will result in extended travel options. It recognises that not all users of our state highway network want or need to drive despite travelling to diverse locations.


The improvements include extending the wildly successful Northern Busway an additional 4km to Albany Station improving journey times and reliability, along with improved bus stations at Albany and Constellation and a new bus station at Rosedale (in co-operation with Auckland Transport).  There will be 6.5km of new walking and cycling paths alongside the motorways including new crossing opportunities such as the dramatic Tirohanga Whānui footbridge north of Greville Road that was co-designed with local Iwi.


Inclusive infrastructure investment is imperative for the wellbeing of our society and our environment. Its returns pay dividends through a productive economy and a thriving and more equal Aotearoa.   



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8 Pillars To Increase Social And Environmental Outcomes Through Infrastructure Investment

  1. Build up rather than out

    Investment that reduces our reliance on cars encourages compact forms of residential development. This protects our natural environment by stopping the sprawling of our cities, increasing public services and social inclusion, preserving open spaces, promoting healthier lifestyles and providing greater interaction and connectivity.[1] Compact development also improves the efficiency of the substantial investment required in infrastructure – such as transport and wastewater. 


  2. Big business can engage small

    Inclusive infrastructure projects provide opportunities for small businesses to take part and benefit from major projects. Projects in our regions can engage small local consultants and contractors in infrastructure design, construction and maintenance.


  3. Local jobs for local growth

    The regeneration and connection of communities surrounding our larger cities supports interaction between people through a high density of employment. Over 87% of New Zealanders are living in urban areas and investment into our urban communities creates employment and services for local communities where skilled commuters live and spend their income generating a positive cycle of development [2]


  4. Lifting Māori and Pacific incomes, skills, and opportunities

    This was one of the key commitments from the Government’s wellbeing budget and Covid-19 recovery provides the opportunity to deliver this through infrastructure investment. In a SpinOff article, published in June, Troy Brockbank, Elle Archer, Sifa Pole and Sina Cotter Tait all sector engineers from Maori or Pacific backgrounds, call for industry to build equity into its response for Māori and Pasifika workers. They call for shovel ready projects that align to the Te Tiriti O Waitangi, enhanced access to employment opportunities for Maori and Pasifika, and increased consultation and engagement with Maori and Pasifika leadership groups. An approach like this could help reduce the over representation of Maori and Pasifika groups in New Zealand poverty statistics and can help shape a more equal and more diverse New Zealand.


  5. Think beyond the car

    Investment in high-quality public and active transport enables everyone including lower income New Zealanders, the disabled, the young, and the elderly to access public amenities with the same or better ease than those who are able to drive.


  6. Innovation on a budget

    Urban design can make our communities more sustainable, equitable and desirable places but with Covid-19 wreaking havoc on local government budgets, we need to find new inclusive approaches to ensure that communities are not left behind, particularly outside of our biggest cities. Waka Kotahi’s Innovating Streets for People sets out to help councils create more people-friendly spaces in our towns and cities, and tactical urbanism -  delivering low-cost temporary changes to the built environment – is being used to make quick progress by testing and piloting projects to help demonstrate their value to the community, without a big investment up front.


  7. Digital inclusion

    During lockdown many of us were able to take our laptops or set up the home computer to deliver our kids’ lessons online. But what about the 62,000 New Zealand households with school-aged children who do not have access to the internet [3] or New Zealand rural households with patchy connection? The deployment of new ways of working/delivering education can exacerbate inequalities if accessibility is based on your postcode or financial means. Included in the recently funded infrastructure projects was $50million for enhanced regional digital connectivity. For people who cannot afford internet access, it is important they can access this through other ways such as local libraries.


  8. Prioritising the environment
  9.  We need to continually assess the impacts that construction and operation of infrastructure assets have on the environment. $460 million of the Government’s shovel ready infrastructure funds has been dedicated to environmentally focussed projects, however all submissions for projects across housing, transport, social development and water, have to demonstrate how they can help the Government deliver its goal to be carbon zero by 2050. All infrastructure projects need to build meaningful carbon reduction and measurement into the planning and delivery of projects so that we have an environment that delivers better productivity with reduced emissions and better health outcomes for our people.


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