Paving the Way: Learning from New Zealand's Past to Build a Better Future

Dr Matthew Birchall
Research Report
14 June, 2023

Good infrastructure is essential for modern life.

Just think about your day.

Maybe you caught the train to work or picked up the kids from school in your car. You hopefully made use of the water network for your daily shower. And you probably charged your phone or laptop using a power grid.

But have you ever wondered where this infrastructure came from?

While we often talk about New Zealand’s current infrastructure woes, we sometimes neglect the valuable lessons from our past. That is a missed opportunity.

In the 19th century, New Zealand’s early settlers overcame an acute infrastructure deficit by building roads, railways, towns, and cities without letting bureaucracy hold them back. We still use their infrastructure today.

As we confront our infrastructure challenges and a $210 billion deficit, it is essential to draw upon history to shape a better future.

This report reframes New Zealand’s infrastructure debate, using history to offer insights and guidance. It highlights key infrastructure success stories, from the laying of toll roads in the Taranaki in the 19th century to the broadband rollout in the 21st century. It also explores a number of cautionary tales to help us avoid past mistakes.

The report asks three big questions about New Zealand’s infrastructure legacy.

  1. Has private enterprise or state-led development been more successful?
  2. Have projects fared better under Wellington or local authorities?
  3. What role does culture play in fostering growth and development?

The historical examples in this report illustrate how New Zealand was once able to deliver infrastructure. There is no reason why we cannot do it again.


Click here to download the two-page summary of Paving the Way: Learning from New Zealand's Past to Build a Better Future

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