OPINION: The final approval from the Environmental Protection Authority for Transmission Gully, which came last week, is wonderful news for Wellington business and the region generally.
Transmission Gully is a strategically important route both nationally and regionally.
As well as easing peak-hour congestion and saving time on the drive to Wellington, the new road will bring the region closer together, improve linkages between the Hutt and the coast and pave the way for increased investment.
The decades-long battle to reach this milestone is symbolic of under-investment in Wellington's infrastructure which has only recently started to turn around.
Inadequate infrastructure has held back Wellington's economy for too long. Sound infrastructure is a must if we are to transform the economy. It is a key requirement for raising productivity levels and is necessary if we are to attract and retain businesses to grow our economy and increase employment.
There are plenty of gaps. For example, the science and manufacturing centre of Gracefield/Seaview is one of the region's industrial jewels but links between it and the rest of the region are inadequate.
Policy makers need to give serious thought to building the so-called Cross Valley Link between this area and State Highway 2.
The amount of freight moving through the Wellington region is expected to double by 2031. Yet there seems to be too much focus on moving people rather than freight in our transport system.
Wellington's strategic position on Cook Strait should be a real advantage yet CentrePort faces a number of infrastructure constraints, including difficult access for both road and rail.
Ultrafast broadband and the ability to fly directly to Asia would make Wellington a more attractive place for businesses to establish themselves and have the ability to really make a difference.
Why are we facing this infrastructural deficit? Financial constraints are part of the story. Delays through the consenting process are another but, for projects of national significance at least, these have been partly streamlined by the recently created Environmental Protection Authority.
Another contributor to inefficient infrastructure development and delays is Wellington's local government structure and existing boundaries. Too often the politics of rival neighbouring cities and districts result in bad regional decisions. Or decisions are delayed because of the territorial battles that occur.
We hope the proposed amalgamation of Wellington's councils will remedy this and enable improved decision-making and strategic capacity in the region so decisions are made for the benefit of the region as a whole rather than in the parochial interest of each territorial local authority.
Wellington City Council's deadline for submissions on local government reform has been extended a week to this coming Friday. We urge those wanting improved decision-making and greater efficiencies to consider this issue and make a submission.
Much of Wellington's infrastructure is prone to natural disaster and so ensuring the resilience of infrastructure assets is also essential. This is understandably a focus following the Canterbury earthquakes, but we need to make sure our decisions are level-headed.
Confidence in Wellington over the last year – consumer and business – has been badly shaken by the hype around quakes. Yes, we need to be prepared and the wake-up call was good as too many buildings and other assets are below standard, but we need to take stock of the risks we face, which are no higher than before the Canterbury quakes.
Higher insurance premiums and pressures on rents as quality space becomes sought after are having a significant detrimental effect on business costs.
Yes, strengthening needs to occur and quickly, but let's not get carried away. Over-sensitivity to risk should not be allowed to deter investors from Wellington.
- Richard Stone is president of the Wellington Employers' Chamber of Commerce.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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