System planning for a better future


The NZ Transport Agency’s Interim CE Mark Ratcliffe gave the following speech to the Upper North Island Strategic Alliance in Auckland on Friday 7 June 2019.


Good morning, Mayors, Chairs and Chief Executives.

Thank you for the invitation to attend today’s meeting.

I’ve met many of you over the last week or so but for those of you I haven’t met yet, I’m the Interim Chief Executive of the NZ Transport Agency. I have been in the seat since mid-January.

I bring a background in infrastructure to the role.

As the former Chorus Chief Executive, I know the importance of providing good infrastructure and services to communities to keep people connected, improve their wellbeing and support the economic growth of New Zealand.

The Transport Agency has a similar purpose reaching into the lives of all New Zealanders but this time, for me, it’s in the transport of physical things. 

Our core functions are to invest in land transport activities, manage the state highway network and provide access to and regulate land transport.

And we work with you, our co-investors, partners, contractors and others to deliver on those functions. 

As your Upper North Island Strategic Alliance group illustrates, it is only by working together that we can confidently address nation-wide, region-wide, inter-region and inter-metropolitan issues.

I’m aware that many of you have heard me talk in the last week and others in the room are likely to hear from me within the month. You have all received a letter detailing projects approved, likely to be approved or unlikely to be approved for co-funding in four activity classes.  

At 16 meetings around the country we are talking about that prioritisation process for public transport, walking and cycling, regional improvement and local road improvements.

So, I’m not talking about that process here today other than to say this NLTP will be a more dynamic process than in the past – we will be regularly monitoring where we’re at with the programme to achieve delivery and the best outcomes.

Today I am interested in a discussion with you rather than talking for too long. 

About the NZ Transport Agency

First though, I’d like to lift the hood on the Transport Agency and let you know how we are doing.

As you know, Nick Rogers is our interim chair.  I am expecting an announcement of a chair within days.  I am an interim chief executive. Processes are underway to appoint a chief executive.  It won’t be me.

We all know that three months ago the Transport Agency was generating a lot of negative headlines.  I know this was unsettling for our co-investors and partners.  It was unsettling for us.

I’m pleased to say we have moved on from there and our business is stabilising. 

I’m doing this by focusing on our core functions, regulation, system design and delivery and operations.  I want to ensure we are working at the level that New Zealand expects of a government agency.

At the same time, I’ve challenged my senior managers to focus on our business functions to get them working better.

I’m talking about a Master Plan for the land transport system.

I’m talking about best practice for health and safety of our people, contractors and the public on our sites and road safety.

I’m talking about our own business planning, performance measurements, internal governance and our risk and assurance.

And I am talking about being more open and transparent with our partners – so you can see clearly how Government priorities translate into our funding programmes and projects in every New Zealand community.

So where have we come from?

I inherited an organisational structure that came into effect in early January.

This structure places a greater emphasis on the Transport Agency being a more effective regulator; introduces a laser like focus on safety, health and the environment, including road safety, and brings into the Agency the new function of light rail.

There are new General Managers in each of these three key areas.  I expect some of you have met or will meet at some time soon our GM Regulatory Kane Patena, our GM Health and Safety Greg Lazarro and our Head of Light Rail Carl Devlin.

I’ve a few words to say about the future – we are in it together

I know your Alliance has a future focus.

And we all know system planning is a key part of preparing for the future.

Integrated land use planning plays a significant role in helping to build stronger communities throughout New Zealand.

The Transport Agency is taking a greater role in master planning the land transport system and its integration with land use to support improving housing affordability and making our cities more liveable. Our master planning work includes mode shift in transportation types and changes to policy which will be needed for 2020 and beyond.

The transport system needs to provide people with a range of choices about how they get to work, connect with family and friends and access services. And it plays a vitally important role in an efficient and growing economy.

Growth in our population and our economy means we need to better plan for the future and help shape our cities and towns in a way that enables people to move around safely and easily.

Climate change means we need to make our communities more resilient to disruption from an increasingly number of severe weather events, and rising groundwater and sea levels.  It also means we need to embrace transport choices that minimise greenhouse gas emissions.

New technology means people have access to more information and a rapidly increasing range of options on how to get around. Ride sharing has arrived, autonomous vehicles are being trialled and electric flying car prototypes are in design.

Our goal is to create a sustainable transport system across all modes to better manage urban growth, reduce harm to people and the environment, and introduce improvements offered by new technology.

We all have an interest in ensuring we deliver on that goal.

GPS 2021

Looking to the near future, we expect GPS 2021 to deliver some additional changes for the 2021-24 NLTP and we have several programmes of work already underway to ensure we are well-positioned to work with you to deliver on the new GPS.

We want to make it easier for us to achieve the best results for your communities.

We have just relaunched the Business Case Approach which I know has been causing a lot of frustration in terms of the time and cost to develop these.

Our new process will provide better consistency and clarity around developing business cases and our aim is to make the process simpler and faster. We’re providing training so there is a better understanding of how to use it to achieve the best results.

We are also making changes to our Investment Decision Making Framework and we want your input to make improvements to this.

We’re looking at a fundamental change in how we make investment decisions – in line with the GPS which has more emphasis on putting people and place, rather than vehicles and networks at the centre of our decision-making.

We have started work on this. Technical workshops are currently being held in four centres and there will be other opportunities to get involved with this work later in the year. 

We want to work in partnership with you as work gets underway to prepare your RLTPs for the 2021-24 NLTP. By ensuring greater alignment with the GPS and with better business cases, together we can achieve the outcomes sought by your communities.


I’m just about to wind up.

But the CE of the Transport Agency cannot step down from a platform without mentioning safety.  I’m talking safety at our regional meetings so I have not gone into detail here. Safety is our top priority.  We are all concerned about the deaths and serious injuries on our roads.  We are all working to improve safety.  If you would like to discuss this shortly, I would welcome that conversation.

Lastly, we have Colmar Brunton surveying our partners at the moment.  Many of you will have received a request to take part – I urge you to do so.  The results will be taken seriously and will shape our work going forward.

Once again, thank you for inviting me to speak today.

It is only by working in partnership to deliver the Government’s transport priorities that we will make a difference to the lives of your communities and all New Zealand.

Thank you.