16 Jun 2015

Efficacy of irrigation fund questioned

2:16 pm on 16 June 2015

An economist is questioning whether a government fund aiming to get irrigation projects off the ground is being used properly.

In Wairarapa, two dams are now undergoing feasibility studies after four years of investigations.

Irrigation

Photo: 123rf

Half of the work so far has been paid for by a $2.3 million injection from the Irrigation Acceleration Fund.

But an economist with Ropere Consulting, Peter Fraser, said the dam planners still had not asked farmers how much they could afford to pay for the water - and he had seen that happen before in other major irrigation projects.

He said that cast doubt on whether government money was well spent on the early investigations.

"What seems to be happening from it [Irrigation Acceleration Fund] is not only is a lot of money getting spent, but not a lot of progress is being made. Probably more concerningly, the tough question - can farmers actually afford to pay for the water - is not being asked.

He said that question was not only not being asked in the Wairarapa case, but in three other cases he had looked at.

Wairarapa Water Use Project director Michael Bassett-Foss said the fund was there to ensure large projects like that scheme had robust business cases. He said progress would not necessarily be quick.

"Infrastructure projects are long-run projects - they can take in the order of 10 years from initiation to the start of construction.

"We're about mid-way through that and that's pretty typical of these sorts of projects. They're quite complex, when you consider the range of investigations, right from environmental, financial, cultural, social aspects. There's a lot to bring together."

Irrigation New Zealand said the fund was fulfilling its purpose - and had already got a number of projects over the line, including the Ashburton Lyndhurst and Central Plains irrigation schemes.

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