Government confirms change to previous transport priorities, now working on 'emergency style' plan after Cyclone Gabrielle

The Transport Minister has confirmed Cyclone Gabrielle has caused the Government to backpedal on transport priorities proposed last year in favour of an "emergency-style" plan.

As Newshub reported earlier, the Government has been reconsidering its transport priorities in the wake of the massive weather event.

In a statement on Monday afternoon, Transport Minister Michael Wood said the indicative transport priorities "will change in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle". 

"We are now working on an emergency-style GPS [Government Policy Statement] that will focus on the huge task of reconstruction of roads and bridges washed out by the cyclone and flooding, as well as building greater resilience so our transport network can better withstand the increasing frequency of extreme weather events like we have seen this year."

Cyclone Gabrielle severely damaged around 400km of the North Island's roading network. The Government announced last month a $250m injection into the National Land Transport Fund to help with the recovery.

That fund receives money from the tax motorists pay at the pump. There are a number of duties and levies on petrol, like the fuel excise duty (FED). 

The rate of FED has been frozen for the past three years after increasing 3.5 cents per litre a year between 2018 and 2020. It was also temporarily reduced by 25 cents per litre last year to help Kiwis with the cost of living - a reduction that currently remains in place until June

Wood on Monday said no final decisions have been made around changes to FED or any other details of the transport plan "as we are still [working] through the full extent of the damage inflicted by Gabrielle".

But he did say the Government would continue "our record-breaking investment in transport infrastructure to in order to catch up with years of under-investment by the previous Government". 

"Much like if you refuse to maintain your house or car for nearly a decade, you'll pay for it later; this is what we have been dealing with," he said. 

Transport Minister Michael Wood.
Transport Minister Michael Wood. Photo credit: Newshub.

He said $7 billion is being invested in local road and state highway maintenance as part of the 2021-24 National Land Transport Programme. That will result in 7000 lane kilometres of state highway and 18,000 lane kilometres of local roads being renewed. 

"In fact we have increased maintenance spend by 50 percent compared to the previous government and we'll increase it again in this coming GPS," he said.

"The Government is committed to rebuilding and recovering from these recent weather events and build infrastructure that will withstand the coming era of climate change. After seeing the impact of the last few weeks on our transport network alone, it's clear that is New Zealand's only viable option."

The Government is currently formulating its GPS on Land Transport from 2024. A GPS lays out the Government's vision for the system - and how it will be paid for - for the coming decade and is updated every three years. 

As part of this, Wood last year set out his priorities for the transport sector, which had an over-arching focus on emissions reduction. 

One of the priorities in the plan - which is now being changed - was maintenance, with the minister saying it's the reality that a "large proportion of the NLTF must go towards maintaining and renewing existing infrastructure and continuing to run existing public services if we are to keep current levels of service". 

"A core focus will be on ensuring that maintenance investment is effective and efficient and enables the delivery of the Government's wider objectives (rather than just replacing 'like-for-like')."

Wood suggested that instead of "replacing like-for-like", it was proposed that "some street space currently dedicated to private vehicles (including for car parking), needs to be reallocated to deliver more bus lanes, separated bike/scooter lanes, and walking improvements".

However, the proposal was attacked by the National Party on Monday morning, before it was announced it was being changed. 

"As we think about getting to a more emissions-friendly place in New Zealand over the long run, we need to make sure that we have got our EVs and our hydrogen trucks running on a very good road network and our road network is in terrible disrepair," leader Christopher Luxon said.

"Taking the maintenance money and putting it into cycle lanes just seems like we are not solving the core problem that makes a big difference to the daily lives of everyday New Zealanders."

Transport makes up 20 percent of New Zealand's domestic greenhouse gas emissions and 47 percent of domestic carbon dioxide emissions. 

The Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP) released last May showed that by 2035, the Government wants to reduce the total amount of kilometres driven by the light vehicle fleet by 20 percent while increasing the number of zero-emission vehicles to 30 percent of the overall light fleet. It also wants to reduce emissions from freight transport by 35 percent and the emissions intensity of transport fuel by 10 percent.