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Speech to Utilities Advisory Group - Paul Swain

Hon Paul Swain
March 3 2004
Speech Notes

"Utility works in the road corridor – diverse interests and common goals"
Speech to Utilities Advisory Group
Grand Hall Parliament 6.10pm


Occasion: Signing Ceremony of New Zealand Utilities Advisory Group Charter of Understanding

Welcome to the signing ceremony for the New Zealand Utilities Charter of Understanding. And thank you to the Utilities Advisory Group for inviting me to host the event. It is a pleasure to do so.

The Issue

All of us are familiar with groups of workers digging holes in the road, slowing the traffic, and making a great deal of noise. We don’t know what they are doing or why, but we wish they would do it somewhere else.

We all expect top quality and reliable telecommunications, energy and water services. However, our utility providers cannot supply those services without infrastructure. And the road corridor is the logical place to locate that infrastructure.

Utilities too, have their gripes – a company with a national presence will have to deal many road controlling authorities, each of whom may have their own, different, and inconsistent requirements for the opening up of roads.

The engineers and managers responsible for the road would agree. Once a road has been dug up a few times the quality of the surface and the strength of the road foundations can be significantly affected.

Maintaining a roading asset in a context of heavy traffic volumes and limited funds is enough of a challenge without it being repeatedly trenched and patched. And what drives roading staff grey before their time is to see a freshly resealed road being dug up again!


And both utilities and road owners do not always know what other infrastructure is already in the road and who owns it. This is a real problem for planning road openings.

The public want the most technologically up-to-date utility services, but also want minimal disruption to the roading network, minimal noise, and assurances about their safety while the work is going on.

I recall that some years ago in Wellington, when a gas main developed a leak, it took five hours to find out who owned the pipe and where the shut off valve was. The risk to life and property was significant.

The Solution

What is the solution? There are no silver bullets. But compromise and co-operation would be a good start.

We need a compromise between the community’s interest in minimising disruption and maintaining smooth traffic flow, and the utility companies’ need to access the roadway to install or maintain their infrastructure.

We need better co-operation between utilities to reduce the number of times that a road is dug up. And we need better co-operation between utilities and road owners to ensure that, where possible, trenching is carried out before a road is resealed, and not immediately afterward.

I made those points when, a little over two years ago, as Minister of Commerce and Communications; I addressed the 2002 New Zealand Utilities Conference.

It is particularly pleasing therefore to witness, here today, the outcome of a collaborative process that got underway at the Utilities Conference.

The New Zealand Utilities Advisory Group, chaired by Local Government New Zealand and comprising representatives of Transit New Zealand, and the telecommunications, gas, electricity, water and waste water sectors has been working on a range of important projects to achieve a good balance between all the competing interests I have outlined above.

Charter of Understanding

I am pleased to be here tonight to support the signing of the NZUAG Charter of Understanding.

The Charter can be compared to an industry accord, a type of statement of intent.

Its vision statement, which sets the goals for all signatories, has four parts:

A commitment to work together;
A recognition of the need to achieve efficiencies;

A desire for technological excellence; and

A commitment to our communities.

The Charter acknowledges the different challenges facing utilities and road controlling authorities.

For example under the heading of “Achieving Efficiencies” there is the goal of “optimisation of costs for utility services in the road” and “optimisation of road related costs for end user consumers of utility services”. These could be said to be the interests of the utility companies and their customers.

On the other hand, under the heading “Commitment to our communities”, we see “minimise inconvenience and reduce delays to road users” and “provide a high quality roading facility”. These are matters of concern to road users.

Clearly, there is a tension between these goals. Acknowledging the different goals of utilities and road controlling authorities will provide the basis for managing these differences.

Implementing the Charter will involve give and take.

Utilities will have to work more closely with each other and with road owners in planning their road opening programmes.

Local authorities will have to work toward implementing nationally consistent district plan provisions, valuation policies, and road opening requirements.

The pay-off is, I believe, worth the effort.

Co-ordination of works between utility sectors and co-ordination with roading maintenance programmes will lead to a reduction in road openings.

As a result, road users will experience less disruption, the community will experience less loss of amenity, and road controlling authorities will benefit from an increased life expectancy of the physical roading asset.

Nationally consistent regulatory requirements will simplify utilities’ administrative arrangements. This has the scope to significantly lower compliance costs.

And better information sharing will benefit all stakeholders equally by reducing the likelihood of any person accidentally striking a gas main or telephone circuit.


Roadshare

The NZUAG "Roadshare" initiative is also being launched tonight.

The Roadshare brand or campaign involves various publications that will provide guidance for those signing the charter tonight.

The members of the NZUAG have been working on the Roadshare projects for a couple of years, the LGNZ representative Tim Davin has already outlined some of those for you tonight.

These projects demonstrate what is possible when stakeholders take seriously the need for compromise and co-operation. They include practical and workable ideas that can be customised for a particular district, and include Partnering Agreements and a Code of Practice.

The achievement of the Utilities Advisory Group in developing these tools and guidelines in such a short period of time is impressive. The Group is to be congratulated for its achievement.

Legislation

The Utilities Advisory Group has also, as part of Roadshare, been considering the need for legislative change to promote its aims.

When I spoke to the Utilities Conference in 2002, I discussed the, then new, Telecommunications Act, which had been enacted the previous year.

In particular I noted that the Act, for the first time, gave guidance to road controlling authorities as to the kind of conditions which they may impose on utility works in the roadway.

These include:

The safe and efficient flow of traffic;

The health and safety of people in the vicinity;

The need to lessen damage to property (including the road);

Compensation for damage to property;

The need to lessen disruption to the community; and

Coordination with the installation of other networks and road construction work.

The other utilities statutes give no such guidance.

I understand that the experience of this provision has been positive and has provided clarity and certainty for telecommunications operators in their dealings with road controlling authorities. I am pleased to hear that.

In fact, recently the Utilities Advisory Group wrote to me seeking my support for legislation to apply these provisions across all utilities sectors.

The Group also noted that it had identified a number of technical amendments that would deliver greater legislative consistency between sectors and reduce compliance costs for all concerned.

I understand that the departments who have observer status on the group – the Ministries of Economic Development and Transport, and the Department of Internal Affairs - have carefully examined these proposals and have no objection to them.

At the Conference in 2002, I commented that it would be premature to consider any legislative change. Also, as I have said today, there are no silver bullets. Certainly there are no legislative quick fixes.

But two years down the track, it is clear that some careful thought has gone into the legislative framework for utilities. And it seems that some relatively minor technical changes may deliver some real benefits. So it may now be timely to entertain proposals for change.

I cannot commit to new legislation today. Apart from the fact that I would need to consult my ministerial colleagues on this issue, Parliament’s work programme is extremely busy and is likely to remain so for some time.

Despite this, I have asked my officials to review opportunities for enacting the changes proposed by the Group.
New Zealand Transport Strategy

As the former Minister of Transport I would also like to point out that the aims of the Charter will also contribute to the objectives of the New Zealand Transport Strategy, in particular the objectives of:

Access and mobility;
Safety and personal security; and
Economic development.

The Charter will contribute to the mobility and safety objectives, by promoting the interests of road users, and reducing the traffic disruption that utility works can cause.

In particular, it will benefit pedestrians and cyclists who can find road excavations or poorly patched roads difficult or even dangerous to negotiate.

And the Charter will contribute to economic development by making it easier for utilities and road owners to do business with each other, simplifying administrative arrangements and reducing costs.

Next Steps

The NZUAG Charter is not the end of a process. It is just the beginning. New issues will arise from time to time, and will have to be addressed.

Also, fine sounding statements of intent and impressive looking documents are of no use if they are not followed through in day to day decision-making.

Stakeholders will need to maintain the spirit of compromise and co-operation to implement the intent of the Charter.

Also - let’s not underestimate this - maintaining this spirit in a context where there is such divergence of interest will be challenging.

So I call on all stakeholders, whether in local government or in the utility industries to commit to the spirit of the Charter and:

Use the tools and guidelines produced by the Utilities Advisory Group;
Support the continuing work of the Group in further developing these and other tools; and
Continue to work together in the spirit of co-operation that the Group has demonstrated so well.

This is the purpose of the Charter of Understanding – to invite stakeholders to commit to the spirit of compromise and co-operation.

Conclusion

As I have said, it will take more than a glossy document to achieve all of this. It will take some real commitment and hard work from all stakeholders.

The signing of the Charter today is a statement of that commitment.

Tonight is a step in the right direction for the management of the road corridor, as Margaret Shields has said, it heralds the "return of the commons."

I commend all the organisations whose representatives have tonight put their signatures to the Charter.

Twenty-nine organisations are showing the commitment to work together in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration.

You are providing the leadership, now the real work begins – making sure the best practice standards are adopted nationwide.

I commend the Charter to you.

Organisations signing the Charter: -

Electricity sector – 9
Aurora Energy; Orion Group; Powernet; Unison Networks; Vector Networks; WEL Networks; Electricity Networks Assoc; Electricity Engineers Assoc; Marlborough Lines.

Gas - 3
NGC; Wanganui Gas; Gas Assoc of NZ.

Telecommunications - 2
Telecom and Telstra Clear.

Water
NZ Water & Waste Assoc

Road Controlling Authorities - 11
Transit NZ; Auckland Regional Council; Rotorua District Council; and the city councils from Porirua, Manukau; Christchurch; Hutt City; Upper Hutt City; North Shore; Wanganui, Wellington.

Industry Associations – 3
Contractors Federation; NZ Pavement & Bitumen Assoc; Ingenium


ENDS

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