Promised funds may be slow to appear

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by Chris Tobin

The Timaru District Council and other councils could be waiting a long time to get some cash from the Government’s infrastructure scheme if the Provincial Growth Fund is any indication.

The Government has earmarked up to $800million from the Provincial Growth Fund to support the scheme.

South Canterbury councils as well as others from all around the country have scrambled to get a slice. There have been 1800 applications made, headed by Auckland Council which has put its hand up for 73 infrastructure projects worth $2billion.

Timaru District Council has applied for funding support for two projects – the Timaru-Pareora water pipeline project which would cost $21million and the Downlands water supply upgrade ($24million).

The Mackenzie District Council did not apply for funding, its spokesman Chris Clarke said.

“Unfortunately none of the planned projects meet the criteria indicated in the long-term plan and don’t yet have consents or tenure issues in place, or are below the $10 million requirement,” Mr Clarke said.

“Mackenzie District Council staff are assessing the viability of bringing forward some projects in the long-term plan to ensure we are well placed to apply for further rounds of funding, if announced by the Government.”

The Waimate District Council has applied for two infrastructure projects – upgrades to the Waimate water treatment plants, $7.6million, and sewer renewals, $3.8 million.

However, getting money out of the Provincial Growth Fund for projects has proven problematic.

In October 2018 Timaru District Holdings Ltd, the Timaru council’s financial arm, and Port of Tauranga, received $90,000 from the Provincial Growth Fund to pay for an initial business case for getting a new $100million wharf in Timaru.

The proposal has made little progress.

Regions that had hoped to receive a funding boost from the Provincial Growth Fund for their projects have also been disappointed even though the Government has heavily publicised the projects.

A total of $459million funding for projects has been announced by the Government but up to February 2020 only $57million had been paid out.

Infometrics, a financial commentator in Wellington, said there had been “lots of press, not many cheques”.

Waimate Mayor Craig Rowley was not wildly optimistic.

“Our level of confidence is moderate. We hope that some of the funds will be allocated to rural areas and we have two very worthwhile projects,” Mr Rowley said.

“We support any scheme that gets industry moving, as a recovery for the country as a ‘whole’ is a win for us all.”

Infometrics said no area of the country had been spared disappointment, with only between 5% (West Coast) and 23% (Kapiti/Wairarapa) of announced regional funding having been paid out.

“The lack of actual cash [going] into regions has limited activities getting under way and Covid-19 now means an even more uncertain picture.”

Infometrics recommended local leaders made decisions.

“Local businesses and owners are best able to cut through talk and get projects moving as well as co-ordinating with other projects that are under way or being considered to enable best results.

“Without changes to the effectiveness of its delivery, the Government risks being a roadblock to the post-pandemic economic recovery.”

Infrastructure New Zealand chief executive Paul Blair said legislative changes were needed to help the recovery.