Councils across the country are already attempting to woo new Regional Development Minister Shane Jones to help get costly infrastructure projects off the ground.
He’s in charge of the new $1.2 billion Regional Infrastructure Fund, which was part of the New Zealand First coalition agreement.
But how it will work isn’t yet clear.
Nelson Mayor Nick Smith said there’s no shortage of projects he would like a hand with.
“We’re a little envious of the wonderful new library built in Marlborough with the support of [the Provincial Growth Fund], so we’re keen to have that early engagement with the minister on which projects best fit,” Smith said.
Smith isn’t alone in his wishes, but Jones told 1News the sense is that “all of the regions have challenges” and they all “don’t cost $1 billion”.
The Government’s new fund is meant to help with regional infrastructure projects which are only getting more expensive and harder to deliver.
If that sounds familiar, it is because it is.
In 2017, Jones had a $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund under the Labour government. It was a scheme heavily criticised at the time by his now fellow ministers.
National MP Chris Bishop in 2020 said there’d been a “clear bias” towards Northland for “political reasons for Shane Jones”.
Meanwhile in the same year, ACT leader David Seymour said: “I would call it pork barrel politics but that would be offensive to pigs.”
This time around, there will be more ministers involved in signing off on the projects.
“The projects that will be funded are genuine infrastructure projects, and they are of a modest character,” Jones said.
“But, they will [be] defined and prioritised by the leadership of the region, they won’t just be chosen by matua Shane after a couple of beers down at the pub.”
The minister said today some could be private public partnerships.
The fund is good politics for New Zealand First. For the next three years, Jones will be regularly dishing out cash in regions around the country which can feel forgotten come election time.
But there’s still a lot to iron out.
Local Government New Zealand president Sam Broughton said: “We don’t need this little sugar hit of money. [Local government] already does it over 10 years and we’d like to see the Government match us with that time frame of thinking.”
Meanwhile Nick Leggett of Infrastructure NZ said: “One billion dollars is a drop in the bucket for a country that needs to spend $30 billion over the next 30 years to overcome our infrastructure deficit.”
Cabinet is expected to sign off on the criteria by March.