Logs without roads

2 May 2003

New Zealand's rapidly expanding log harvest could be stalled by an inadequate roading system, according to the forest industry.

In the next 15 years the harvest of wood from plantation forests will increase from 20 million cubic metres to an unprecedented 36 million cubic metres - most of which will be exported.

The NZ Forest Industries Council (NZFIC) and NZ Forest Owners Association (NZFOA) say getting it to the mill or port could prove to be a major headache.

In a submission to the Transport Select Committee, they say the Land Transport Safety Bill will not solve New Zealand's serious roading problems.

"New Zealand's roading system is seriously under-funded and the Bill could even make the situation worse," said NZFOA chief executive Rob McLagan.

"The Bill no longer requires road user funds to be allocated on the basis of efficiency. This, and the provision for the Minister to influence road funding decisions without public scrutiny, means that limited funds may be used poorly.

"Given the open-ended nature of the objectives of the legislation and the lack of reference to efficiency, almost any form of pork barrel politics is possible.

"We recognise that economic efficiency should not be the only criterion for allocating roading funds. But when the minister issues instructions they should be gazetted and published, so everyone knows what's going on."

Mr McLagan said large amounts of road tax were already being siphoned off into the consolidated fund for non-roading purposes and this could continue, or even expand, under the proposed legislation.

"So it is doubly important that the roading funds that are actually used for roads, are used wisely."

He said the industry is also concerned about tortuous new consultation processes. These come on top of the requirements of Local Government and Resource Management Acts.

"These requirements are onerous, and will create additional costs and major delays -- or even cancellation of projects that would otherwise have proceeded at less cost. A mechanism is required to ensure that issues are considered only once."

Mr McLagan said the forest industry is being seriously affected by poor roads in the newer forest regions in particular.

"The Bill will do little if anything to rectify this problem. If we do not address this issue directly, the regions requiring growth and new jobs will suffer.

"We hope the Government will seriously reconsider the Bill and make significant changes so the country can have safe and efficient roads."