Infrastructure Commission's 2019 Pipeline

On Radio NZ yesterday, the chair of the Commission, Dr Allan Bollard, when launching the Infrastructure Pipeline commented:

"We're picking up all the information we can from many of the agencies that are involved in this, and as you know infrastructure in New Zealand is quite fragmented.

“It's got a lot of operators involved in many different ways across pipes and roads and networks and housing and all sorts of regions and all sorts of local authorities. We’re pulling together the plans that look like they're in place."

The Infrastructure Transactions Unit has, as one of its goals, to advise on major project procurement strategies, over $50 million.  The concept of a coordinated approach to major projects is to be welcomed.  Over the last few years (more like decades), the stumbling blocks for the construction industry have largely remained unchanged - lack of resources (largely qualified staff), poor procurement strategies and inappropriate allocations of risk.  These issues were identified in the UK by Sir Michael Latham in his Constructing the Team Report in 1994, and by the Blake Waldron report on pressure points in the Australian construction industry in 2005.

We are late to this party, having largely wasted effort on alternative procurement arrangements (Alliances & PPPs to name but two) and blind alleys like securing retentions.  None of these have ultimately addressed the issues of lack of skilled labour (including in consultants) and poor procurement practices.  Yesterday's Society of Construction Law event at Russell McVeagh suggested that, through the efforts of the Infrastructure Commission's Infrastructure Transactions Unit (ITU), we might be about to turn a corner.

One of the challenges for any such review is to adopt a clean sheet approach to the industry, to be honest about what is going wrong, look to what has been achieved overseas and to identify what a successful project looks like; and how to achieve that success.  The alternative runs the risk of fiddling, like 2015's retention scheme, while construction firms continue to fail, projects get delayed and subcontractors don't get paid.  Sadly, the most widespread failures seem to be in government projects.

We have a very thin construction sector, and it is important that we look after it.