When not even the shovels are shovel-ready

Dr Eric Crampton
Insights Newsletter
8 May, 2020

There’s an old short-handled shovel hanging in our garden shed. The plastic handle has split, but the blade and shaft are fine. With a bit of work, that shovel could again be shovel-ready. But it isn’t just yet.

This past week brought news stories that really should have been tied together. The Government is readying changes to the Resource Management Act to fast-track shovel-ready megaprojects in the Government’s preferred priority areas. Meanwhile, contractors have been digging up and re-building the same bits of Transmission Gully for some time. Nobody knows when it will end.

Together, the stories remind me of that old shovel in the back shed. If even a half-built road isn’t really shovel-ready, what hope is there for the rest of the giant projects? Even a shovel isn’t always shovel-ready.

Megaprojects are risky and pinning recovery hopes on them may be a mistake. If employment is the only criteria for success, Transmission Gully has been remarkable. Workers could dig up and re-lay the same section of road forever. But as bad as unemployment is likely to get this year, there are surely more productive uses of everyone’s time.

The whole approach is taking the shovel by the wrong end. Anyone who lived through the Christchurch Earthquakes ought to remember just how bad an idea it can be to pin one’s hopes on a few anchor projects that can take years to get going.

Myriad smaller projects could be progressed if the consenting were just a bit easier.

We were rather lucky that the bulk of our home renovation work was done before lockdown. But the consenting was a hassle and isn’t done yet. Our balcony collects the rainwater that once fell directly onto the cement driveway. But, as far as Council is concerned, that rainwater can neither be returned to the driveway where it would have fallen, nor can it go to a garden sump.

If I could take the bit of bureaucratic red tape and use it to repair the handle on that old shovel, my garden sump project would be shovel-ready.

Thousands of other shovels could surely be ready to go. Easing the rules so we can all get on with our own shovel-ready projects may make a bit more sense.

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