Transport Minister names new Waka Kotahi chairman: but will the Agency get the funding needed for new motorways?

In one of the most significant appointments the government has  made, Transport Minister Michael Wood has named Dr Paul Reynolds as chairman of Waka Kotahi Transport Agency NZ. He takes  over from Sir Brian Roche at a  time  when – according to critics – NZ’s roading system has suffered  from a  lack of funding and, equally importantly, a lack of ministerial direction, particularly in the first term of the Ardern government.

Now the government is  playing catch-up  and Wood  says  the government’s commitment to infrastructure investment continues to play a critical part “in securing NZ’s economy”.

He adds  that Waka Kotahi is crucial to the delivery of many of these projects, such as the Transport Choices package, Penlink, the Northern Corridor, Eastern Busway, Takitimu North Link, Mt Messenger Bypass, Manawatū Tararua Highway, and Ngā Ūranga to Pito-One.

“Waka Kotahi requires a Chair that is a highly experienced governor who can navigate complex environments, drive the development of strategy, build consensus and effectively engage with a diverse range of stakeholders.

“Both Waka Kotahi and the wider transport system are facing challenges such as climate change, the transition to a focus on multiple modes of transport, the need for effective and modern regulation, and how to manage significant change equitably. “All of these require a collaborative working approach, and a solutions-focussed leader with a vision for the future.

“Dr Reynolds is an experienced Chair and public sector leader, as well as an excellent strategist. His appointment strengthens the Board’s regulatory and environmental capabilities, as well as offering an additional perspective of the specific transport challenges experienced in regional New Zealand. As Chair, he will work collaboratively with transport and Treaty partners to solve problems and explore new opportunities.

“I am confident Dr Reynolds has the right skills to lead the Board for the next three years and am excited to work with him”.

The big  issue, of course,  is  whether Wood  can secure  the funding  required for the major  new  motorways the country still needs.

Critics complain the government thought the priority should turn to make the existing  system “safer”, without understanding that  much of the system is obsolescent.

In his press  release  Wood acknowledged Sir Brian for his dedicated service as Chair for the past three and a half years.

“He entered the Board during a challenging period for the organisation, and was able to make key structural changes while also managing the impacts of the COVID pandemic and other significant challenges.

“Waka Kotahi has benefitted from his calm and collected approach, and I am grateful for the advice and support he has given me in my time as Transport Minister,”  Wood said.

Dr Reynolds will replace Sir Brian as Chair from  February 1.

He served as CEO of the Ministry for the Environment from 2008 until 2015. Before that he worked at the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology (1998–2002) as Chief Policy Adviser and from 2002–2008 he was Deputy Director General (Policy) at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

He has a background in scientific research, holding a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Otago.

Sir Brian  was a  partner in PriceWaterhouseCoopers for over 20 years before retiring in 2009 to take up the role of Group Chief Executive of NZ Post.  He left there in 2017 and has been involved since as both a director and or advisor across a range of entities and activities.

Sir Brian was involved in a defence policy review in 2015 and again in 2019.

He chairs Antarctica NZ  and City Rail Link as well as Waka Kotahi-NZTA, and was appointed by the government to panels tasked with scrutinising the handling of Covid-19 in both 2020 and 2021.

Sir Brian earlier in his career advised governments dating from the Bolger era and was chairman of the Transport Agency when the National government began its motorway programme, the Roads of National Significance.