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Fast-tracking construction and infrastructure projects through COVID-19

13 May 2020

#Construction & Infrastructure, #COVID-19

Published by:

Carla Mazibuko

Fast-tracking construction and infrastructure projects through COVID-19

As Australia starts to see a light at the end of the tunnel from the current isolation restrictions, governments at all levels look to measures that will pave the way to rebuilding the economy in 2020 and beyond. The construction and infrastructure industry is set to play a big part in that recovery effort, and there are renewed calls for governments to consider ways to fast-track construction and infrastructure projects.

Those renewed calls have come mainly from industry groups and peak organisations, such as IAQ, QMCA, CCF, UDIA, MBA and RACQ, trying to do their best to protect and grow their industry through this testing period. 

Unavoidably, with a push to ‘fast track’ comes the risk that the processes designed to protect the community, environment, workers, etc. are eroded. So despite the desire to get things moving, governments (and private owners) must ensure there is no compromise in the integrity of their processes in making decisions to fast-track or implementing fast-tracking measures. It is also imperative that any ‘fast-track’ projects are not undertaken just for the sake of trying to bolster the economy, and that there remains an identifiable need for each fast-tracked project.

All State and Territory governments have already started implementing measures to get fast-tracking under way, including:

  • in Victoria, the Building Victoria’s Recovery Taskforce has been established to investigate planning and investment opportunities to boost Victoria’s building and development industry over the short, medium and long term. There are three Industry Working Groups that will advise the Taskforce as well as a Steering Committee, involving representatives from industry peak bodies and unions
  • in New South Wales, the recently announced Planning System Acceleration Program aims to fast-track planning assessments of State Significant Developments, rezonings and development applications and invest $70 million to co-fund new community infrastructure in Northern West Sydney. The intention is not to skip normal checks and balances, but focus on projects that could start work within six months. So far, there are 24 projects that have been identified to go through the fast-tracked process
  • in South Australia, the government announced the fast-tracking of $120 million funding for council projects, mostly for regional roads
  • in Australian Capital Territory, the government’s fast-track program is focused on infrastructure projects that will support local business and that can start immediately. The projects will include infrastructure and maintenance work on government-owned community buildings, schools and other facilities
  • additionally, many local governments have announced fast-tracked council projects or brought forward some of their already planned projects or maintenance to be undertaken now while there is less interruption to businesses and the community.

In Queensland, various measures have been undertaken or are in the pipeline to respond to the crisis.  

The Palaszczuk government, councils and other groups have given the Morrison government various lists of projects for possible stimulus funding. These include major transport and mass transit projects under the South East Queensland City Deal, which was already under negotiation.   

The Queensland and federal governments have already agreed to fast-track 22 jointly-funded regional roads projects worth $185 million, although both are being asked to outlay much more. 

Urgent amendments to the planning legislation that were introduced in late March are now in effect. The amendments give the planning minister greater flexibility to suspend or extend any of the statutory timeframes across the planning framework.

Toni Power, Queensland’s first female Coordinator General, is chairing the Infrastructure Industry Steering Committee (IISC), a group made up of various government and industry bodies working together to prioritise and progress catalytic infrastructure projects and development opportunities. 

We understand that individual departments are also examining what they can do to keep the pipeline of work flowing. For example, the Coordinator General (CG) is looking at opportunities to leverage the CG’s powers into some smaller projects (i.e. non-mega projects) and to accelerate the approvals process, which has long been a bone of contention within the industry. 

It is hugely encouraging to see the depth of work, understanding and willingness to collaborate (both within the industry, and between the industry and governments of all levels) that this crisis has engendered.

However, the real challenge is yet to come. Short term fixes are much needed and appreciated, but the medium to longer term future of infrastructure in Australia is the real prize here. What happens once the crisis is over?

Authors: Suzy Cairney & Carla Mazibuko

Disclaimer
The information in this publication is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavour to provide accurate and timely information, we do not guarantee that the information in this newsletter is accurate at the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future.

Published by:

Carla Mazibuko

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