Building an even better Aotearoa

Rethinking our towns and cities.

Talent & Technology

Long-term planning

Low emissions energy

8 min read

Photography iStock

A great way of life is a part of what makes Aotearoa home, but some cracks have appeared – problems like unaffordable homes, broken pipes and congested streets.

We know that owning homes in our cities is becoming unaffordable for many. At the same time, more of people’s time is spent in traffic as our roads struggle with growth. These problems have started to spread to some of our regions too, while others face shrinking populations and the high costs that come with looking after important services like roads and waterpipes with fewer ratepayers to pay for them. We can steer a path through these problems so that current and future generations of New Zealanders can enjoy a great way of life.

We have the opportunity to build the Aotearoa we want

The good news is that these problems are not insurmountable, but they do mean rethinking some old assumptions and doing things differently. They mean planning ahead and becoming more deliberate about the Aotearoa we want to see and to enjoy. This is where we’ve tripped up before, building what we need just in time or only after we need it.

We’ve also struggled to plan for population growth, and our regulations haven’t kept up, locking us into old ways of doing things when it comes to the way we build our towns and cities, or meeting the needs of our smaller communities. These challenges give us the opportunity to do things differently as we look to the future.

Plan, plan, plan

We know our population is going to grow. A population plan for the country that helps identify the areas we expect to grow can give our cities, towns and regions more certainty to plan for their future.  

“We’ve struggled to plan for population growth, and our regulations haven’t kept up, locking us into old ways of doing things when it comes to the way we build our towns and cities, or meeting the needs of our smaller communities.”

One way we can plan better is by using regional spatial plans, which are long-term plans for how land will be used. Through these, councils and others involved in infrastructure can plan for where to house a growing population, as well as the transport, water, schools and other services they’re going need. We need to do this planning before the population grows – it’s hard to put in a rail line or a school in suburb that is already full of houses.

This population growth won’t always match the council boundaries we’ve set. Already, people commute from Waikato to Auckland, from the Kāpiti Coast to Wellington City. Councils will need to work together to make sure they can provide for transport, housing and other infrastructure that best matches the way people live, work and travel.

Make the most of what we’ve got

Planning will be important, but in some places it’s too late. We’ve already developed so much that there’s not always space to put in new roads and public transport connections. Nor do we always want to - letting our cities sprawl creates major infrastructure costs and can be a strain on the environment.

Our cities will need to grow upward as much as possible, making the most of the transport, waterpipes and powerlines that are already in place in our city centres.

"The good news is that these problems are not insurmountable, but they do mean rethinking some old assumptions and doing things differently."

This means resetting our consenting rules to allow for greater development and building more homes around public transport connections like train stations. Not just homes though: by allowing for homes, offices and shops to be combined in an area, we create cities where people can easily walk or cycle to work.

Making the most of what we’ve got sometimes means being smarter about how we use infrastructure rather than building more of it. By charging to drive on busy roads at peak times, while providing good public transport options, we can reduce congestion and the need to widen or build more roads.

Making connections

COVID has shown that digital technology can offer alternatives to transport connections, as some people can work or study from home. This will not only help take the burden off the infrastructure in our cities, but can also be important for rural and small town New Zealand, helping people to connect to larger centres.

"COVID has shown that digital technology can offer alternatives to transport connections, as some people can work or study from home."

This is just one way that technology can offer alternatives to large and costly infrastructure for smaller centres, particularly those where populations might be shrinking. Satellite broadband can reduce the need for expensive connections to a small number of households, and small-scale solar panels can power households in remote places instead of connecting to a network. People can consult a doctor or healthcare professional online. Known as telehealth, this can give people access to healthcare services no matter where they live while potentially reducing the number and size of clinics that need to be built.

There are many examples like this and there will be even more as technology improves, offering flexible, nimble solutions to the challenges posed by distance and remote locations. But to get the benefit, we will need to make sure our regulations and standards allow for these challenges, and don’t lock in the need for costly, large-scale infrastructure for communities that can’t afford it.

What is the most important infrastructure issue to you?

Some of the changes we’ll need to make


Change is happening. We need to adapt, plan and work to support a growing Aotearoa – doing nothing is not an option.

The New Zealand Infrastructure Strategy explores some of the changes we’ll need to make, including:

  • Proactively planning ahead so that the right infrastructure is in the right place at the right time.
  • Investing based on the way people use infrastructure rather than regional boundaries.
  • Moving to a planning system that accommodates growth and opportunity.
  • Making better use of the infrastructure we already have in our towns and cities.
  • Ensuring those who benefit most from infrastructure pay their fair share.
  • Using data and digital technology to make better use of some of the infrastructure we already have.

What is the most important infrastructure issue to you?

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