The Planning (Super) Ministry and the NZIA. What Are They?

What are these contraptions


In my Regional Rapid Rail, Inter-Regional Planning, and a Planning Ministry. Transforming and Unlocking Places post I talked about a Planning Ministry and a New Zealand Infrastructure Agency to spawn off from the New Zealand Transport Agency otherwise known as NZTA.

From that post:

Planning Ministry

Normally the Ministry of Transport would oversea the execution of the Regional Rapid Rail program and the Southern Airport Line program. However, given the consequences to the urban environment brought on by those urban centres connected to the RRR the Ministry of Transport is not best set up to handle the mechanics of both programs.

Enter the Planning Ministry

The Planning Ministry borrows its concepts from New South Wales.

From the Department of Planning and Environment – NSW:

We exist to make people’s lives better by making NSW a great place to live and work. We help to provide homes and services, build great communities, create jobs and protect the environment.


The Department engages place making which includes transport and the same principle would be applied here with a Planning Ministry. That is the Planning Ministry would draw up the overall inter-regional planning framework and be the overseer to all other agencies executing the planning framework including Regional Rapid Rail, and The Southern Airport Line. The Planning Ministry would be your one stop shop for transport urban and economic planning, environment management, and plan/place maker.

The Planning Ministry would break down silos that would have otherwise occurred between the Ministry of Transport and the wide range of Councils involved with the Regional Rapid Rail Scheme.


Source:  Regional Rapid Rail, Inter-Regional Planning, and a Planning Ministry. Transforming and Unlocking Places


So let’s take a look a bit deeper into my Planning Ministry, and New Zealand Infrastructure Agency idea.


Both the Planning Ministry and NZIA stem from the short comings with the Ministry of Transport, New Zealand Transport Agency, Kiwi Rail, the National Land Transport Fund, and Auckland Council.

What we have is some of these institutions are deemed Planning Authorities. By Planning Authorities they are by law (the Resource Management Act) allowed to not only plan but consent or seek consent (by the way of a Board of Inquiry) for developments including infrastructure. The problem is they often act as silos and when a large integrated development like the Congestion Free Network or Regional Rapid Rail occur getting those Planning Authorities onside can be a mission harder than getting man to Mars and back.

Finances make things even more difficult as well. NZTA while it oversees all land transport modes subsidises operating expenditure for public transport but is not allowed to invest (CAPEX) into rail – only roads. Kiwi Rail with its combined freight, passenger and tracks operations is the investor and maintainer of the rail system. The National Land Transport Fund uses fuel taxes (and general taxation) to fund roads but not rail even through Kiwi Rail does charge access fees to its rail corridor. Confused? If you are don’t worry because it is a bloody big mess. I also forgot that NZTA oversees things like the drivers licensing scheme, registrations and Road User Chargers for diesels as well.



Coordination lacks and the finances of the lot is no doubt inefficient of our taxpayers resources.


Source: Greater Auckland


Cue the Planning Ministry and the New Zealand Infrastructure Agency

First the Planning Ministry

Formally it would be known as the Ministry of Planning and the Environment and it would have four major departments.

  • The Geography Department as the overall watchdog, enforcer and coordinator when two or more of the departments are involved
  • The Department of the Environment to handle the Resource Management Act (which is meant to manage the effects on the Natural Environment)
  • The Department of the Urban/Built Environment and Building to handle a new Urban/Building and Building Environment Act (managing the urban environment and also absorbing the Building Act)
  • New Zealand Infrastructure Agency (chief agency overseeing and investor of roads, rail tracks and sea ports)


Transport functions like licensing, Road User Charges and registrations remain with NZTA and the Ministry of Transport.


Existing functions on handling the effects of the natural environment outside of an urban centre/limits would remain with the Resource Management Act and the new Department of the Environment. All urban matters including water and air inside an urban area would shift to the new Department of Urban/Built Environment and Building division including the Auckland Unitary Plan and the Auckland (Spatial) Plan. The NZIA handles the investment and maintenance of the State Highways and the heavy rail network while also sharing costs on intra-regional schemes like bus-ways and light rail. NZTA would continue providing OPEX subsidies to things like the busses and passenger trains.

The Geography Department is the overall watchdog, enforcer and coordinator of the entire Ministry:

  • Watchdog: To oversee the other Departments making sure they are delivering per policy requirements
  • Enforcer: Pretty much the butt kicker if the Departments are slacking off from policy requirements. They can also bring about prosecutions if other entities or persons break the laws set about for or by the respective Departments
  • Coordinator: when a major inter-regional planning and development exercise is undertaken spanning multiple entities across multiple jurisdictions and agencies the Geography Department is the one that sits on top of everything making sure the planning and delivery of the projects occur. Its watchdog and enforcer functions can apply if things go sideways


The New Zealand Infrastructure Agency oversees the roads, tracks and governance of the ports. It has full access to the National Land Transport Fund which can be used to build said roads and tracks (note: track access fees would contribute to the NLTF just as road user charges and fuel taxes do from roads).


Urban Geography Wall


Examples of the agencies working

Auckland Plan or the Unitary Plan

Given both are planning exercises handling both rural and urban areas the Department of Urban/Built Environment and Building has the main call with collaboration from the Department of the Environment for issues outside the Rural Urban Boundary.

Southern Motorway upgrades or building of the Third and Fourth Mains

NZIA would handle this these projects after the request had been peer-reviewed from the Geography Department (making sure the projects complied with sound economic, social and environmental analysis) acting in its Watchdog role.


Third Main in Action at Otahuhu-Middlemore
Source: Kiwi Rail

City Rail Link, Congestion Free Network 2.0 (including The Southern Airport Line), and/or Regional Rapid Rail

This is where the full power of the Planning Ministry is invoked. As I said above the Ministry of Transport would normally handle this but given the place and plan making opportunities from each of these mega projects we are going to need more than MoT. Enter the Planning Ministry and its four departments.

While the NZIA would be the main executor of building these critical infrastructure links both the Departments of the Environment and Urban/Built Environment and Building also come into play as well?


Because if we followed proper integrated land use/transport goals place making (both urban and natural) present themselves as opportunities. On the natural environment side even rail lines disrupt the environment (although not as much as roads). Storm water and run off catchments are still needed in the rural areas with rail especially if wetlands are crossed or depots are built outside the urban areas. On the urban environment side is where things get very interesting very fast.

All three mega transport projects will have stations and depots (including the provincial towns in regards to Regional Rapid Rail) and this means Transit Orientated Developments.

With TODs you draw two circles using the station as the centre point. The first circle has a radius of 800 metres and this is where the highest density developments (including civic spaces) would go. Your next circle is drawn with a two kilometre radius from the station and between the 800m and 2km circles is where your medium density (relative to the town) developments (including civic) spaces would go. 800 metres is your walk up catchment to a station while two kilometres is your e-bike catchment. Both catchments would be mixed use residential and commercial developments although the 2km radius does work for industry when a freight depot is concerned (saving truck shuttling between factory/warehouse to freight station). As this is all plan and place making this is where the Department of the Urban/Built Environment and Building comes in as it can reach over boundaries Councils can not.

As multiple Councils, Ministries and Departments involved in a project as extensive as Regional Rapid Rail the Geography Department of the Planning Ministry comes into the play as the main overseer and coordinator. The Geography Department would draw up a an Inter-Regional Spatial Plan as the main overarching document guiding the infrastructure and urban developments as well as natural environment stewardship much like the Auckland (Spatial) Plan does. With that spatial plan in place the respective Planning Authorities can undertake their local developments with help and coordination from the Planning Ministry (as a whole). The ultimate goal being planning, development and management is done at a coordinated whole-scale approach across multiple regions rather than the piece-meal approach that we have now (and has bogged down Hamilton to Auckland inter city rail).


Rapid Regional Rail
Source: Auckland Transport



In conclusion a Planning Ministry with its four departments including a New Zealand Infrastructure Agency would go some way to coordinate and enforce inter-regional planning that New Zealand struggles with. Our different regions have not benefited from competing with each other and should collaborate with the help of the Government via this Ministry. Each of the four departments deals with specific intricacies of planning and the different environments with the Geography Department as the overarching authority and enforcer.


What do you think?