John Vujcich: Affordable infrastructure in rural communities

John Vujcich
John Vujcich

The generally accepted infrastructure procurement and traditional build mythologies need to be changed.

There is a lot of concern in our small rural communities about the affordability of infrastructure and the associated ever-increasing rates. Everyone recognises that infrastructure, such as water, sewerage, electricity, roads, schools, hospitals and housing, is critical to our quality of life.

It's also well understood that good infrastructure is essential for a healthy economy and continued economic growth. What is not clearly understood is how we can provide and maintain our infrastructure in a manner that is affordable, especially for communities experiencing rapid growth, and those experiencing a decline and an ageing population.

We see government struggling with this problem, commissioning numerous studies and plans and seemingly making little difference. Councils are facing the same problem providing affordable infrastructure that they are traditionally responsible for; recent concern in the Hokianga regarding their drinking water upgrade is a very real example.

How can it be considered acceptable when rates take 18 per cent of the average income? I'm not prepared to accept that this is a problem that cannot be fixed. The technologies, skilled people and visionaries needed are there.

I have confidence in the abilities and skills of New Zealanders to find practical, innovative solutions, but the basic assumptions we have been working with, the traditional approaches, need to be open to change.

Central government and council will need to consider their legislation and policies in the light of their local impact and be prepared to accept challenges to their basic assumptions and conservative thinking. They will also need to consider their funding priorities.

The generally accepted infrastructure procurement and traditional build mythologies need to be changed. I have seen examples of design and construction being done at significantly less cost and yet achieving the exact same thing.

Local communities need to be involved at every stage, including the solution, and financial and rating models need to be reconsidered and changed accordingly.

Finally, we all need to be focused and work as a team to find workable solutions.

Entrenched positions amongst council governance and management teams have to be put aside. Personal agendas and parochial thinking need to be replaced with a genuine desire to help struggling communities and ratepayers. Council is a democracy and decisions are made by a majority vote; we cannot achieve it alone.

None of the five areas above are a quick fix, and it will take a lot of background work by good men and women to bring about positive changes. However, we can and must demonstrate small gains. Hopefully this week we can help make some small progress, help at least one small community, and set a direction that sees benefits for all of us in the Far North.

- Northland Age

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