The government's new plan for transport is bad news for Canterbury.
Petrol prices are skyrocketing around the country and the Government is egging them on by proposing three rounds of tax increases, as well as legislating for a regional fuel tax so it can be rolled out across New Zealand in a few short years. This is going to see the cost of living continue to track sharply upwards.
Despite taking more money from everyday New Zealanders through these additional taxes, the Government has actually cut $5 billion from its budget for building regional roads. Instead, that money will now shift to funding trams for Auckland.
In the meantime, our region has to keep paying the fuel taxes to fund these trams, and sit and watch while the much-needed highways in our area go unfunded.
These changes are very damaging for transport infrastructure around the country.
For Canterbury, this means projects our communities were relying on are now even less likely to get built. These include the proposed upgrade to State Highway 1 between Ashburton and Christchurch, as well as the Northern Motorway project north of Christchurch. Both of these projects sorely need to reduce congestion, improve safety and improve productivity for businesses providing services and transporting goods through our region.
This approach of cherry-picking projects in Auckland and raising taxes is in stark contrast to National’s transport plan.
While in Government we had a track record of funding major new roading projects, while also making a significant investment in public transport and moving towards new transport technologies – all while keeping the cost of living under control.
Our Roads of National Significance policy was the cornerstone of our transport plan.
We invested $12 billion to build the first seven projects to reduce congestion, improve safety and support economic growth. On top of this, the policy also created around 35,000 new jobs across the country.
National was committed to expanding our regional focus with our next generation of Roads of National Significance. This would have built ten major regional highways across New Zealand, including the new Christchurch-Ashburton highway. This was a carefully balanced plan for transport which prioritised our regions, supported our cities and didn’t require further tax increases.
We were keeping our own books in order with strong budgets that would deliver on key infrastructure for all of New Zealand.
Now our regions are in limbo.
With new vehicle sales having reached a record high in August, major cuts to state highway funding could not have come at a worse time. The volume of traffic on our state highways is rapidly increasing, with New Zealanders travelling up to one billion kilometres in the last year – an increase of 5 per cent according to Infrastructure New Zealand.
Cuts to roading projects alongside a record level of car sales and an increasing use of state highways is a recipe for regional economic downturns and gridlock.
Canterbury deserves better, as do the other regions around New Zealand that are missing out.