The drought that has covered most of the country has reinforced the need for more irrigation and shows the need for water infrastructure to be part of the government’s call for infrastructure projects to kick-start the post-Covid-19 recovery:
IrrigationNZ supports the Government’s decision to ready infrastructure projects for construction following a return to normal in New Zealand as part of efforts to boost the economy. IrrigationNZ notes that water infrastructure has been included in this.
“The pandemic and the lockdown have demonstrated how important the food and fibre sectors are to our country, to put food on the table and also to support our economy,” Chief Executive of IrrigationNZ Elizabeth Soal says.
Covid-19 has inflicted near-mortal damage on tourism and export-education and highlighted, yet again, the importance of primary production. Farming, horticulture and viticulture would do even more with better water infrastructure.
‘’It is therefore not only a huge relief for the primary industries sector to see water included as essential infrastructure but also extremely prudent. Not only will investment in water infrastructure projects create jobs during the construction phase, but they will also support the longer-term resilience of our economy.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on everyone and while health and wellbeing are the number one priority, planning ahead for the post-pandemic New Zealand is essential,” Ms Soal says.
The economic and social costs of dealing with the pandemic, the shutdown and the recovery will hold back the country for years.
Primary production and the businesses which service and supply it, and process its produce, will be more important than ever.
“In the last few decades, water infrastructure projects have typically been funded largely by local communities and end users. As the effects of the pandemic affect regional economies on a scale we have not seen before, increased central government funding will be critical from now on. High levels of co-funding at the local level will simply no longer be feasible” said Ms Soal.
“We also need to consider how certain processes the Local Government Act and the Resource Management Act will affect the viability of projects” says Ms Soal. “For example, it is currently unclear how annual planning processes will occur or how resource consents can be fast-tracked to get projects ‘shovel-ready’ in a short time frame. Consenting processes for major projects generally take years, not weeks” said Ms Soal.
If the economy is to get up to speed as quickly We need to create the jobs and earn the export income that will fuel the recovery. New projects, including irrigation, that will do this can’t be hamstrung by the current time consuming and expensive consent process.
After Cyclone Bola, then- Prime Minister David Lange ordered the army to construct a Bailey bridge without resource consent.
The government must find a way to enable short cuts to consent processes to allow infrastructure projects to start in weeks to a very few months not years.
That doesn’t mean ignoring the requirement to maintain high environmental standards. There are enough irrigation schemes that have improved economic, environmental and social sustainability already operating on which the standards for new ones could be based.
When the state of emergency is over and alert levels end, we’ll be faced with a new normal that will leave the country much poorer than it was just weeks ago.
We can’t afford to have repairs to the economic and social damage inflicted by Covid-19 and the response to it, hampered by torturous consent processes that held back development in the old normal.