Government repurposes Crown Fibre Holdings to speed home building

Crown Infrastructure Partners will be backed by $600m fund, new targeted rates.

The government is setting up a new agency to speed up the building of housing, starting with a fund of $600 million.

In a move supported by Labour but dubbed "too little, too late", the new policy follows months of behind the scenes wrangling to find a way to fund basic infrastructure required in new areas before house construction can even occur.

It will repurpose Crown Fibre Holdings, the revolving fund used successfully to accelerate the nationwide roll-out of fibre-optic cable for ultra-fast broadband (UFB), as Crown Infrastructure Partners.

It will see central government and private sector investors co-invest in projects that councils will pay for through targeted rates and volumetric charging by the residents of the newly constructed residential areas and associated business and industrial parks.

First out of the block for the new special purpose vehicle approach is a project in Drury South, on the southern outskirts of Auckland, where construction firm Stevensons has been ready for months to start work on infrastructure to support some 700 new homes and a 180ha  business and industrial development. 

"Should major civil works start in October 2017 it is expected the project will be ready for the first occupants in 2019," Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce and Local Government Minister Anne Tolley said in a statement.

Opportunities north of Auckland around Wainui, Silverdale and Dairy Flat are also among the $588 million of projects outlined in today's announcement, with potential to support the construction of up to 23,300 more new homes in coming years than the 5000 than current infrastructure would support.

Crown Fibre Holdings – or Crown Infrastructure Partners, as it's being reborn – has been responsible for the ultra-fast broadband rollout, the first stage of which won't be completed until 2020, and the second around 2020. The UFB programme has at times has been marked by at times chaotic project execution by key partner Chorus – although, overall, the public-private project has been on time and budget. CFH was also able to help push for some modest reform to the consent process and land access rules.

Crown Fibre Holdings has been headed by Graham Mitchell since it was created in 2010. Mr Mitchell previously filled a number of roles in the technology industry, including a general manager position at Spark's (now sold-off) Australian subsidiary AAPT.

The new initiative comes on the heels of money being lent to local governments around the country from a new $1 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund and a $2 billion plan to build 34,000 homes over the next 10 years, mostly in Auckland and 24,000 of them under a Housing NZ scheme.

The Auckland focus of the Crown Infrastructure Partners' initial $600 million spend will bring it closer to Mayor Phil Goff's request for $1 billion in housing infrastructure assistance. The city received $300 million of the $1 billion allocated under the Housing Infrastructure Fund.

What no Nick Smith? The Building & Construction Minister was conspicuously absent as Finance Minister Steven Joyce, Local Government Minister Anne Tolley, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff and Prime Minister Bill English gathered for this afternoon's announcement.

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