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by Chris Tobin

A four-lane highway between Selwyn district and Timaru should be taken up by the Government as part of its infrastructure spend to help the economic recovery from Covid-19, Road Transport Forum (RTF) chief executive Nick Leggett says.

“A four-lane highway between Selwyn and Timaru would connect people and freight between the food basket of South Canterbury and more populous markets to the north,” he said.

“South Canterbury is one of the important food baskets in the South Island.”

In 2017, the then National government announced a four-lane highway between Christchurch and Ashburton as part of a $10.5billion investment if it was re-elected. That proposal has since been shelved.

Mr Leggett said the RTF wanted any four-lane highway development extended past Ashburton and into South Canterbury.

“I think New Zealand has always done just enough for tomorrow and not enough for the day after.”

He said the South Island had been “badly” left out of the Government’s $12billion infrastructure spending package that was announced at the end of January.

“New Zealand must invest mindfully for the recovery period we have ahead. Infrastructure projects provide an immediate economic stimulus.”

Mr Leggett said the Government needed to carefully select projects that built and sustained increased economic activity and reduced reliance on the Government.

“Roading projects improve safety and allow us to play to our natural advantages as a food producer by making it easier to get our exports to market.”

In his view the Government had to fast-track the consenting process by legislating directly.

The other two projects the RTF wanted added to the Government’s infrastructure spend were the Petone-Grenada link in Wellington and the east-west link between Onehunga and Mt Wellington in Auckland.

At the beginning of this month the Government announced a Crown Infrastructure Partners Shovel Ready Fund to speed up infrastructure projects costing more than $10million which were ready to start as soon as the construction industry returned to normal to reduce the economic impact of Covid-19.

The Timaru District Council has applied for financial assistance for its Timaru-Pareora water pipeline replacement and Downlands upgrade.

Mr Leggett said it was important investment was made into roads to build up the economy as quickly as possible.

“Exports and imports need to keep moving to ensure people are employed when it looks like we are unlikely to rely on tourism and foreign students to boost our economy for some time.”

RTF members included the New Zealand Trucking Association, the Road Transport Association NZ, and National Road Carriers, covering almost 3000 individual transport companies operating 16,000-18,000 trucks.

Truckies deserve thanksĀ and recognition: forum

The work being carried out by truckies during the Covid-19 crisis has not been sufficiently acknowledged by the Government, Mr Leggett says.

“New Zealanders have recognised the importance of the trucking industry keeping supermarket shelves stocked but not the Government.

“There is an anti-truck feeling in the Government.”

He believed transport operators and truckies had not received the recognition and thanks they deserved.

“Our industry has yet again stepped up to meet the need. These are the people who are keeping supermarket shelves stocked and medicine and equipment going into hospitals and pharmacies.

“They respond to need in just minutes and they get goods where they need to go.”

Since the lockdown began many operators had told Mr Leggett they had been operating at a loss because freight had to be labelled as essential or non-essential.

Some operators had trucks parked up. He hoped the labelling of essential and non-essential freight would end.

“In the interests of the supply chain we should move all freight.”