IPWEA NZ CE Murray Pugh shares some thoughts and reflections on the current state of play in Aotearoa’s asset management sector.

Being a bit new to infrastructure and public asset management I have been especially intrigued by the current plethora of challenging questions being posed with eyes lifted to the 2050 horizon and beyond. While its refreshing to be thinking really hard beyond ourselves (and a 3 year election cycle) it doesn’t make the answers and decisions any easier.

Take water reform for example. Districts that have past paid for and maintained their water infrastructure in top notch condition are sitting today with an expectation of a low cost water future. But their neighbour and big brother further down their road may be crumbling under the pressure of pipes with unexpectedly shortened lives, and growth that is beyond existing capacity. Amalgamating the whole into a regional water entity could see a small future water cost reduction for the majority strugglers, and a significant increase for the minority who may feel they have already paid their price.

How will we collectively respond to these possible inequities? Perhaps, our Aotearoa culture shift over the last 2-3 years (think Covid “Be kind”, and growing implementation of Tiriti O Waitangi partnership behaviours) will allow a bigger view of equity.

The recently announced Health reforms are possibly more drastic than water – but seem to be driven by similar concepts.

And then there is roading and transport – and how to both pay for it, and concurrently drastically reduce its carbon impact. At 48% of New Zealand’s GHG emissions, it’s a BIG ticket item. Technologies are gearing up – hydrogen for heavy transport, electric for light vehicles – maybe a mixture of both for public transport? Infrastructure will have to move to match – charging networks, transmission networks, distribution networks, electrolysis plant, storage and reticulation.

What other ways can our public roading infrastructure make a serious contribution to decarbonisation? And social prosperity? Maybe road roughness needs to be reduced now for better fossil fuel efficiency, as well as improved amenity. Would paving unsealed roads be a good thing – or would the energy and materials needed to do so actually set us back? How do we keep on target for 2050 while the zero emission technology and infrastructure is in the process of being adopted? And how can we afford it ALL?

Big questions, big answers required. Its an exciting time to be in the profession that will be called on to be part of the decision making. Think about the skills of an awesome public asset manager – rigorous enquiry and consultation, reliance on data, tested models and informed forecasts, interpretation of information and valued influence at the governance table. These are the skills we need to have applied to make the best decisions – for the next generations to marvel at!