The Government’s Policy Statement on Land Transport (GPS) determines the amount of funding it will make available for roading maintenance and renewal.
The GPS plays a critical role in the overall ability of councils to efficiently manage their roads in a way that ensures their integrity isn’t compromised and they are kept to an appropriate level of service.
A draft GPS for 2015/16 to 2014/25 has been out for consultation.
The Local Government New Zealand’s (LGNZ) submission on the draft GPS is worth a read.
The submission was made on behalf of all New Zealand local authorities.
It highlights the expectation that money gathered off each of the state highway and local council roading networks should approximately balance the expenditure allocated to these networks.
Presently, around 70 per cent of roading expenditure is allocated to the state highway network which, in terms of length, makes up only 11 per cent of the road network but does carry close to 50 per cent of vehicles.
The remaining 30 per cent of roading expenditure is assigned to local council roads which make up 89 per cent of the length of the network.
A study by one council found that across the country between $350 million and $400 million of funds generated on local authority roads are currently being invested on the state highway network.
The Government’s Roads of National Significance programme (RoNS), is of course addressing some of the long-standing problems with our state highways. However, allocating funds to RoNS should not be at the expense of maintaining the overall roading network.
The Government has a goal of growing exports from 30 per cent to 40 per cent of GDP over the next 10 years. This will have a significant impact on New Zealand’s rural roads.
The draft GPS unfortunately continues to focus on improvements to the state highway network at the expense of local roads.
That won’t help to maximise economic growth and productivity.
A BERL report commissioned by LGNZ identified that for every tonne of freight per kilometre on the state highway network associated with exports there is between 1.3 and 1.8 tonnes of freight occurring per kilometre on the associated local road network.
It is important that a corresponding investment in local authority routes occurs alongside the state highway investment.
LGNZ recommends better phasing of the RoNS programme and releasing some of the funds to address issues on existing local road infrastructure.
Their submission notes that the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) annual report for the year ended June 2013 shows that there was underspending against the plan of more than $40 million in the Local Authority Activity Classes.
There is some frustration that councils couldn’t get their hands on the funding at a time when they are looking to maintain the integrity of their roading networks and optimise whole of life costs.
The constraints on local authority GPS funding over the last three years mean that many councils are struggling to meet their stewardship obligations to their communities to maintain their existing roads.
Thankfully this draft GPS does include a modest 3 per cent increase for maintenance and renewals of local roads on the GPS 2012 allocations.
However, a 3 per cent increase won’t meet the growing demands of increasing freight and or ageing infrastructure.
Those costs are expected to be met through efficiency gains. That is a very big ask.
The transfer of funds from the local council network to the state highway network at the current level for an extended duration is unlikely to be sustainable.
Ashburton District Council made its own submission on the draft GPS.
We said that our district generates significantly more revenue for the National Land Transport Fund through road user charges than is returned in the form of NZTA co-investment.
The local road transport sector which is the source of this revenue has justifiably high expectations in terms of levels of service.
With funding decreasing in real terms, it is becoming increasingly difficult to meet these expectations.
Sufficient funding from road user charges and levies must be returned to local councils to complement the ratepayer funding that is invested in roading.
This will allow local councils to provide ‘fit for purpose’ local and regional roading networks as part of the wider land transport system which supports a productive economy.
The draft GPS and submissions can be viewed on the respective organisations’ websites.