NZTA doubles comms team after difficult years, while state highways face ‘significant funding pressure’

The Government’s embattled transport agency NZTA has been on a spin doctor hiring spree.

NZTA nearly doubled the number of staff employed in media and communications roles between 2017 and 2019. 

This coincided with a deeply tumultuous period in NZTA’s history where it was found to be negligent as a regulator, a scandal which eventually cost a motorist his life.

National’s Transport Spokesperson Chris Bishop said the agency should be focusing on building roads, rather than hiring communications staff. The NZTA’s most recent quarterly report said the state highway building programme faced “significant funding pressure”.

“People around the country will be frustrated that the transport agency was able to find more money for comms pros and spin doctors but they can’t find money for road upgrades,” Bishop said. 

NZTA’s spend-up was revealed in an answer to a written Parliamentary question submitted by Bishop.

NZTA has beefed up its communications team whilst transport projects have stalled.
ALEX BURTON/STUFFNZTA has beefed up its communications team whilst transport projects have stalled.

The Agency employed the equivalent of 37 full-time permanent staff and three staff on fixed term contracts in media communications, marketing, stakeholder engagement and public affairs roles, as of July 2019.

This is nearly double the rate employed in July 2017, when the Agency employed 17.5 permanent staff and 8.6 fixed-term employees. The precise number of staff may differ, as the figures were calculated as full-time equivalents, rather than an exact number of both full-time and part-time staff.

A spokesperson for NZTA said that most of the communications team were involved in “community engagement activities”.

“In recent years a number of communications and engagement staff who were previously based within project teams have been brought in-house to work as one team, in order to lift our capacity and capability in this area, with a strong focus on community and stakeholder engagement,” the spokesperson said. 

The team’s role was to engage with people who would provide input on transport decisions, NZTA said.

MP for Hutt South Chris Bishop,left, and Mayor Ray Wallace campaigning for the Melling interchange, a stalled NZTA project.
KEVIN STENTMP for Hutt South Chris Bishop,left, and Mayor Ray Wallace campaigning for the Melling interchange, a stalled NZTA project.

NZTA has faced intense scrutiny this week as the full cost of the regulatory compliance scandal was laid bare. 

The law firm Meredeth Connell, which was hired to review the files of the sub-par WoF and license issuers at the heart of the scandal, was paid $7.2 million. 

Meanwhile NZTA has faced criticism that it has been unable to get crucial infrastructure projects built.

The incoming Government changed the agency’s focus away from large state-highways to local roads and public transport.

That led to some of the previous Government’s prestige roading projects being reassessed, meaning they’ll be unlikely to go ahead in their current form, if they go ahead at all.

But the new priorities have had a lagging effect on Transport spending, with NZTA seemingly unable to get its multi-billion dollar roading budget out the door. 

The agency has struggled to spend its quota for highway improvements, which have come $264.8 million under budget according to its latest quarterly report. This translates into many incomplete or delayed projects.SharePlayMuteCurrent Time0:00/Duration Time0:46Loaded: 0%Progress: 0% FullscreenSTUFFSpeed limits are too high on the majority of New Zealand roads, the NZ Transport Agency says.

The agency also says that multiple areas of the Transport budget face “significant funding pressure”. State highway projects, local road projects and public transport all face funding pressures. 

A spokesperson for Transport Minister Phil Twyford said the matter was operational and the Minister would not comment. 


Top management axed from transport agency before chair quit

A massive clear out of top NZTA management occurred under the watch of chairperson Michael Stiassny, who is quitting early, says Transport Forum head Nick Leggett.

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NZTA chairperson Michael Stiassny has quit one year into his three-year contract. Photo: Vector

Mr Stiassny was brought in to shake up the New Zealand Transport Agency after major failings, but has quit one year into his three-year contract.

Mr Leggett said Mr Stiassny was “clearly brought in to disrupt”.

“We always felt there would then be a transition to someone who could bring the agency and the pieces back together, to a new normal if you like,” Mr Leggett said.

Huge risks remained, he said.

“I would certainly say the road transport industry is nervous, we’re incredibly nervous about where things are at.

“But we would certainly see this as a step towards progress of getting things back on an even keel.”

Mr Leggett said he was “optimistic” that NZTA was now focused on safety as its primary responsibility.

Mr Stiassny said after just one year, he had already done the job he came to do, shifting the transport agency to focus on public safety.

His resignation comes six months after revelations NZTA had not been properly checking up on companies which certify vehicle safety and give out licences.

Mr Stiassny oversaw a review, which led to 300 enforcement actions and the recall of more than 45,000 vehicles, which may have been wrongly issued warrants of fitness.

National’s transport spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said Mr Stiassny’s resignation showed the government was struggling to get the agency under control.

When asked whether the previous government should bear some responsibility for the regulatory failings of NZTA, Mr Goldsmith noted the agency was “independent”.

“There was absolutely work to do in terms of regulatory responsibilities of the agency, and that work had to be done,” Mr Goldsmith said.

“But there was also an enormous amount of change right across the organisation, with very large turnover.”

The transport agency was in “a state of internal chaos” and that was adding to the lack of progress that commuters and motorists saw every day, Mr Goldsmith said.

Regional road funding had been cut, and there had been inaction and instability over the past 18 months, he said.

Transport Agency not fit to regulate rail – lawyer

A health and safety lawyer believes the Transport Agency has been too cosy with the rail operators it is required to regulate for safety and wants change.

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Since a 2000 inquiry into the deaths of rail workers in the 1990s, health and safety in rail has been covered by two pieces of legislation – the Railways Act and the Health and Safety at Work Act, and overseen by the Transport Agency and WorkSafe when it was established in December 2013.

Now a report from the Rail and Maritime Transport Union has laid out the case for urgent reform.

In 2012, 10 KiwiRail workers were overcome with gas while working in the country’s longest tunnel, the near nine kilometre long Kaimai Tunnel.

The workers lacked emergency evacuation equipment and did not have any procedures in place and there was no ability to communicate between the teams working in the tunnel.

In November 2013, there was a similar incident in Otira Tunnel near Authur’s Pass.

Health and safety lawyer and author of the report, Hazel Armstrong, investigated these cases for the Rail and Maritime Transport Union.

She said the Transport Agency did not use its power to improve tunnel safety, but that the then newly-formed WorkSafe was prepared to issue improvement notices and enforce standards.

“NZTA had oversight for many years and did not, so, we had to rely on WorkSafe to issue the improvement notices and the prohibition notices, because NZTA wouldn’t.”

Ms Armstrong said the rail operators have been allowed to write their own rules as part of a light-handed approach to regulation and she had no confidence in the Transport Agency.

“We have seen many years of an approach or a culture within NZTA that is not robust around health and safety.”

The union’s general secretary, Wayne Butson, said it commissioned the report as part of an ongoing struggle to get rational health and safety regulations into the rail industry since the Railway Act came into force.

He said since that piece of legislation came in in 2005 not one rule had been written by the Transport Agency.

Mr Butson said the agency did not have a culture of regulation, “what they have is a culture of trying to encourage and educate and work with employers to see how they can improve safety”.

“I think using the carrot without the stick just does not work.”

Wayne Butson and Hazel Armstrong said rail safety and regulation needs to be completely taken out of the agency’s hands and fall under WorkSafe.

The Transport Agency is under scrutiny for its oversight of other parts of the transport industry and it is now subject to an external review.

In a statement, the Minister of Transport, Phil Twyford, said he is asking for advice on what changes to the regulatory function are required and expects that rail safety will be looked at as part of that work.

Twyford reassures Kiwis on road safety after NZTA revelations

Transport Minister Phil Twyford made a ministerial statement in Parliament reassuring the public about the NZ Transport Agency and road safety, and revealing some more detail about investigations.

It comes after he announced last week that he was initiating a regulatory review of the agency which was set up 10 years ago to combine three functions as the transport funder and builder, and safety regulator.

Twyford said there had been systemic failures by the agency to properly check operators who certified vehicles as safe for the road – Stuff has reported on one death, cracked truck towbars, and suspension of certifiers.

Phil Twyford has been dealing with the crisis at the NZ Transport Agency.

Phil Twyford has been dealing with the crisis at the NZ Transport Agency.

Out of the 850 “open files”, or unresolved safety problems, the worst had been resolved but there were still 28 that were being urgently investigated, Twyford said.

There had been 157 files considered high priority, 370 classed as “orange”, and 345 “yellow”.

Twyford said he has been assured the highest priority cases had been dealt with by formal compliance action either completed or under way.

“Injuries on our roads are not the price we pay to travel. They are unacceptable and preventable,” he said.

“I’m disappointed that NZTA has failed to carry out its regulatory functions.”

He had appointed the Ministry of Transport  to review those functions, and given what the public and Government now knew, it was appropriate to appoint external advice, he said.

Law firm Meredith Connell took up the job near the end of September to review the files and the agency was moving quickly to rectify lapses. The cost of engaging the law firm so far was $400,000

The agency had failed to properly check operators who certified vehicles or operators, as safe for the road, and when problems were identified there was often no follow up, Twyford said.

Staff had been redeployed with reduced focus on the regulatory role over the past decade with an emphasis on education and encouragement rather than enforcement, made worse in 2014 when it lost staff from its heavy vehicle compliance team.

Twyford said the systemic failure of one of the government’s most important agencies over several years was unacceptable

As previously reported, the failures of the agency have led to one fatality in a car, and cases of metal fatigue in truck towbars.

New Zealand Transport Agency Chair appointed

Transport Minister Phil Twyford today announced the appointment of Michael Stiassny as Chair of the New Zealand Transport Agency Board.

Michael Stiassny has been appointed for a term of three years commencing on 19 April 2018.

“Michael Stiassny has a wealth of governance, leadership and financial knowledge having been involved in governance and corporate positions for the past three decades,” Phil Twyford says.

The NZ Transport Agency’s core functions are to plan and invest in New Zealand’s land transport networks through the National Land Transport Programme.

“This Government has a transformative agenda to rebalance the transport system toward better safety, access and value for money, along with more investment in regional and local roads and rail.

“The NZ Transport Agency has a crucial role to play in creating a modern and sustainable transport network across land transport modes. Michael Stiassny brings strong and decisive leadership to the Board.

“I’d like to thank Dame Fran Wilde who’s been acting chair over the past three months and acknowledge the contribution of Chris Moller who stood down in January,” Phil Twyford says.

Lower speeds to stay on alternative highway until State Highway 1 reopens

Temporary speed reductions on the alternative highway will remain in place until SH1 is repaired. (file photo)
 Speed reductions on sections of the alternative route between Christchurch and Picton will remain in place until State Highway 1 is repaired.

The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) on Monday confirmed the temporary speed reductions, which were introduced after the SH6/63/65/7 route became the top of the South Island’s main trunk line following last November’s earthquake.

The changes were made because the alternative route is much more challenging to drive than the road it replaces, and traffic on the route has increased dramatically.

There has been a huge increase in heavy traffic on the alternate highway since the November earthquake.

There has been a huge increase in heavy traffic on the alternate highway since the November earthquake.
 There have been five deaths on the road since the earthquake. The change in conditions has caused several longhaul truck drivers to quit, while one truck company has reduced speed limits for drivers.

The NZTA received nearly 300 submissions on the speed reduction proposal. The majority were in favour of lower speeds through townships on the route, but less positive about those sections of open road that had been reduced to 80kmh.

Though submissions supported lower speeds through townships, they were less positive about speed reductions on stretches ...

Though submissions supported lower speeds through townships, they were less positive about speed reductions on stretches of open road. (File photo)
 In a statement, NZTA regional relationships director Jim Harland said there was not high support for lower speeds at all sites, but reverting to pre-quake speeds would be irresponsible.

“However, once SH1 becomes fully operational and traffic volumes have reduced to a stable level we will review speed limits on the alternate route again. Ideally this would be within six months of SH1 reopening, but it will depend on traffic volumes.”

Harland said the submissions raised concerns about travel times and limited passing opportunities.

The alternative route will be the South Island's main road until SH1 is repaired, which is expected to be before Christmas.

The alternative route will be the South Island’s main road until SH1 is repaired, which is expected to be before Christmas.
 “To date $1.5 million has been invested in slow vehicle bays and pull-over areas on the alternate route, and work is underway now to construct 20 more of these areas. However, in light of feedback, the Transport Agency will investigate whether more slow vehicle bays and pull-over areas could be built.”

He said the perception the lower speed limits had significantly increased travel time was incorrect, with the lower limits increasing travel time by less than two minutes between Christchurch and Picton.

The temporary limits were introduced under emergency legislation, which can only be in place for six months legally. A new bylaw replacing the temporary limits will be in place by June 18.

SH1 is expected to be reopened before Christmas.

Consultation also included proposals to lower speed limits on parts of the Lower Buller Gorge. These received low support, so will not be taken further.

 – Stuff

Minister announces transport sector board appointments

26 April 2017

Media Statement

Minister announces transport sector board appointments

Transport Minister Simon Bridges has today announced appointments and reappointments to the Boards of Maritime New Zealand (MNZ), the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Mr Bridges has reappointed Peter Cowper to the Board of MNZ. He has been a member since May 2011.

“Mr Cowper’s reappointment will provide Board continuity, as he continues to contribute his extensive commercial and leadership skills,” Mr Bridges says.

MNZ is a Crown entity whose primary function is to ensure the safety, security and environmental protection of New Zealand’s coastal and inland waterways. Its Board has five members.

Mr Bridges has also appointed two new members to the Board of the NZTA – former Mayor of Queenstown, Vanessa van Uden and professional director Mark Darrow.

“Ms van Uden brings a new perspective, along with her local government experience.

“Mr Darrow has wide-ranging governance experience, and Chairs the Audit and Risk Committee for the Counties Manukau District Health Board. His appointment brings extensive transport knowledge and an injection of fresh energy to the NZTA’s Board,” Mr Bridges says.

In addition, Mr Bridges has reappointed Adrienne Young-Cooper who has been a member of the NZTA Board since August 2011, and is a member of its Investment and Operations Committee. Ms Young-Cooper’s reappointment provides continuity, as well as strong governance.

NZTA is a Crown entity whose primary role is to contribute to an effective, efficient, and safe land transport system in the public interest. Its Board has eight members.

Mr Bridges has appointed experienced lawyer, Anna Adams and reappointed Grant Lilly, to the Board of the CAA.

“Ms Adams brings experience in public law and regulatory systems. She is also the Board Chair of law firm, Meredith Connell. Her appointment will provide a new perspective for the CAA,” Mr Bridges says.

Mr Lilly has a strong aviation background after 40 years’ experience in the aviation sector. His reappointment will provide continuity to the Board. He has been on the CAA Board since 2011.

The CAA is a Crown entity whose primary function is to regulate and promote an integrated, safe, responsive and sustainable civil aviation system. The CAA Board has five members.
Peter Cowper

Mr Cowper has extensive leadership experience with large and complex technical organisations and environments. He brings substantial experience in defining and managing complex change, consulting, strategic insight, risk management, ICT and telecommunications knowledge, procurement skills and commercial knowledge.

Vanessa van Uden

Ms van Uden has been Mayor and Councillor of Queenstown, a rapidly growing area of New Zealand. She has worked in governance, accounting and contract management. She has recent first-hand experience of local government roles in transport. Ms van Uden splits her time between Queenstown and Wellington.

Mark Darrow

Mr Darrow has a wealth of governance experience, as he is currently Chair of multiple entities and Chair of the Audit and Risk Committee for a District Health Board. He has transport sector experience with the Motor Trade Association, Dekra New Zealand, Courier Solutions and Armstrong Motor Group. Mr Darrow is Auckland based.

Adrienne Young-Cooper

Ms Young-Cooper is a senior and experienced Board member, having been on the NZTA Board since August 2011, and is a member of its Investment and Operations Committee. With her background in urban planning and as a company director, Ms Young-Cooper makes informed contributions. Given her previous experience as a Board member of Maritime New Zealand, she has a strong transport background. Ms Young-Cooper is Auckland based.

Anna Adams

Ms Adams is a practicing lawyer and Board Chair of law firm, Meredith Connell. She has been with Meredith Connell since 2003 and a partner since 2008. Her main experience has been in public law, health law, regulatory systems and litigation.

Ms Adams also has a background in public sector policy and managing legal risk. She brings an analytical approach to managing issues and good communication and relationship skills.

Grant Lilly

Mr Lilly has governance experience from a number of director roles in the aviation sector including Queenstown Airport Corporation Limited, Jetconnect Limited, Jetstar Airways Limited, Air Nelson Limited and Eagle Airways Limited. He was a member of the Board of Airline Representatives from 2006 to 2011, and a board member of the New Zealand Business and Parliament Trust from 2008 to 2011.

East West Link transport project to be considered

15 February 2017 | AUCKLAND & NORTHLAND

East West Link transport project to be considered by Board of Inquiry

The NZ Transport Agency has welcomed a Ministerial decision to refer its application for designation and resource consents for the East West Link project to a Board of Inquiry.

The Transport Agency lodged its application with the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in December 2016. The EPA reviewed the application and recommended that it be treated as a matter of national significance that should be referred to the Board of Inquiry.

The Transport Agency’s Auckland Highway Manager, Brett Gliddon says the Board of Inquiry will give the public and stakeholders an opportunity to provide feedback on what is proposed, while also providing industry with more certainty on the timeframes for the delivery of the project.

“The East West Link will be a vital connection in the transport network that keeps Auckland moving. Its location is at the heart of the country’s industrial and manufacturing industries. It also plays a crucial role in the economic growth of all New Zealand,” says Brett Gliddon.

The project will build a new four lane road between the Neilson Street Interchange at State Highway 20 and the Mt Wellington Interchange on State Highway 1, and widen State Highway 1 between Mt Wellington and Princes Street. It will also create new and improved connections to local roads in Onehunga and Penrose, relieving the current congestion experienced across the day on Neilson Street. It will also create a seamless walking and cycling path from Onehunga to Sylvia Park.

It’s hoped construction can start in 2018.

“We’re confident the Board of Inquiry process will ensure the Transport Agency’s application is thoroughly tested, that the process is transparent and the community and stakeholders are given full opportunity to make submissions and have their views heard.”

The Transport Agency has been working with Auckland Transport and the community since 2013 to develop the design and plans for the East West Link. There will be opportunities for ongoing design work and engagement with the community during the next stages of the project.

Details on how people can make submissions and get involved in the Board of Inquiry process are available on the EPA website:

The Transport Agency will be holding information days to give people more information on the project and the technical reports that have been lodged. These will be held at:

Monday 27 February, 5.30pm

Otahuhu Library, 28-30 Mason Avenue, Otahuhu

Wednesday 1 and Thursday 2 March

Onehunga Community Centre, 83 Church Street, Onehunga

The Transport Agency has published details of its application and supporting documents on its website and encourages people to look at them and ensure they’re fully informed. The documents and more information about the project can be found at



National Road Carriers (NRC) chief executive David Aitken has praised the traffic improvements being delivered through Onehunga by the East West Link project, noting members have welcomed the Neilson Street Bridge demolition and lower replacement road.

“These changes have improved the sight lines for freight drivers and given them extra space for safe turning,” he says.

“The connection between Neilson Street and Onehunga Wharf Road is now working much more efficiently with our members currently noticing better traffic flows.

“The NRC is committed to keeping New Zealand moving and this new lowered road is making it easier for freight and other heavy vehicles to travel through this important freight hub.”

It is understood drivers of heavy vehicles are also appreciative that they are no longer required to stop for the light changes on the steep gradient that was a feature of the over bridge.

Recently commenced by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA), the $1.25 billion to $1.85 billion East West Link project will ultimately provide a four-lane road connecting State Highway 20 at Onehunga to State Highway 1 at Mount Wellington.

“This will make it far more efficient and reliable for freight to move through this important industrial and manufacturing area.

“It’s great to see both the NZTA and Auckland Transport aren’t waiting until construction on the wider project gets underway and is getting on with creating early gains and improvements in the area.”