Bridge and state houses to top $500m package

A quick start on a replacement for the Kopu Bridge near Thames and a big boost for state house building and refurbishment are set to be key parts of the Government's $500 million infrastructure package announced today.

In the first parliamentary sitting of the year, Transport Minister Steven Joyce signalled that an announcement on the one-lane Kopu Bridge would be in the package aimed at preserving jobs and easing the impact of the recession.

The bridge is expected to cost more than $32 million.

Prime Minister John Key said the package would include spending on state highways, school property, and state housing. "They are projects that will be ready to start and get under way as soon as possible."

The Transport Agency had set a start date of mid-2011 for a 500-metre-long Kopu replacement bridge, though Labour had said it would bring that forward to 2010.

Mr Joyce said last month that he wanted to get the project going possibly before the end of next year a move that could be particularly popular among Aucklanders wanting faster access to Coromandel. Queues up to 10 kilometres long backed up at the 82-year-old bridge during the Christmas break.

Mr Key indicated again yesterday that a big push would be made on insulating and upgrading state housing, which the Government believes will help retain jobs across the regions and improve the health of tenants.

In response to Greens co-leader Russel Norman, who has criticised National's dumping of a $1 billion house insulation plan, he said today's package would cover insulation, energy efficiency and climate change.

"We will be creating jobs in our economy and they will be jobs that not only have a consideration for economic growth and providing good wages for those who are in them, but also will have an eye to ensuring that environmental responsibility is taken seriously by our Government."

Housing Minister Phil Heatley said last year there was up to $2 billion of deferred maintenance on Housing NZ's books. He also indicated an increase in the number of state houses.

Further roading projects, including extensions to the Waikato Expressway, and the Puhoi motorway north of Auckland, are likely to be included in another package this year.

Labour leader Phil Goff said Mr Key was bragging about his plans while not acknowledging that Labour's 2008 Budget and other measures proposed by the previous government made up three-quarters of the stimulus package.


The Dominion Post