Newsroom Pro's 8 things at 8 am: Crown Fibre gets a re-tread; Migration backdown likely

The number of the day is the number of New Zealanders estimated to be living on the streets or in emergency or sub-standard housing situations - topping an OECD survey. Source: OECD

In today's email, the predicted special purpose vehicles finally arrive.

1. Crown Fibre gets a re-tread

Finally, the long-touted special purpose vehicles to help councils fund infrastructure for housing have arrived.

As previewed by Newsroom Pro on February 17, May 30 and July 12, the Government has used the Crown Fibre Holdings model to create these special purpose vehicles.

But Crown Fibre Holdings is more than the model. It is being morphed into the new Crown Infrastructure Partners entity itself to create the vehicles that will be used immediately for two major sets of projects in Auckland costing $588 million. The vehicles will receive revenues from targeted rates and volumetric charging for the use of the infrastructure by residents. Councils will have the option of buying back the assets "at some point in the future."

Finance Minister Steven Joyce, Prime Minister Bill English and Mayor Phil Goff donned their high viz gear yesterday to announce the creation of the repurposed entity and plans to kick off big new sets of infrastructure projects for 28,300 houses in Wainui to the north Auckland and around Drury and Pukekohe to the south.

Joyce said the Government would initially invest $600 million in Crown Infrastructure Partners, but expected private sector investors to eventually invest alongside the Government.

"We learnt from the ultra-fast broadband programme that if we de-risk some of the early stages of the investment, we can bring in private sector investors to take on much of the heavy lifting as the investments mature," Joyce said.

"We would expect the Crown’s investment in each project to be matched with at least one to one with private sector investment over time," he said.

The key phrase there is 'over time.'

The Government will stump up the full $600 million for the first two sets of projects costing $588 million.

The bulk of the money will be spent in the south and be grouped around the massive Drury South development spearheaded by Stevensons Group, which appears to be the earliest winner of the acceleration of projects.

The Drury South project has 180ha of business and industrial development along with 700 houses adjacent to the Stevenson Drury quarry. It is one of the four areas identified in the South for the use of these special purpose vehicles, but Drury South is the first to be considered.

"Out of the four areas it is the most developed and is in near ready-to-go status, having already obtained planning permission, with the design and consenting expected to be complete in 2017," the Government said in the Q&A of its announcement.

"Should major civil works commence in October 2017 it is expected the project will be ready for the first occupants in 2019," it said.

The four areas in the south involve infrastructure investments costing $387 million, including $215 million for transport and $172 million for water. The transport portion includes rail stations at Paerata and Drury West costing $60 million.

The new entity was welcomed by the Employers and Manufacturers Association, Local Government New Zealand and the NZ Initiative, which highlighted its advocacy from 2013 for similar types of 'Municipal Urban District' (MUDs) vehicles.

Labour Housing spokesman Phil Twyford asked what had taken the Government so long, noting Labour had proposed the creation of infrastructure bonds funded through targeted rates in 2015.

2. Immigration backdown coming?

The Government looks set to back down on key elements of its migration changes announced in mid-April and due to apply from midway next month. A delay is most likely at the least.

A concerted campaign from farmers and other employers of lower skilled migrants appears to have forced the Government to relent on the changes, which were focused on defining workers earning less than $48,859 per year as unskilled and therefore only able to stay in New Zealand for three years. The pathway to residency for these workers was effectively blocked in the changes, making it much more difficult to recruit these types of workers, including those in hospitality, aged care and dairying.

Paddy Grower reported the likely backdown last night on Newshub, but English also appeared to confirm the changes earlier in the day.

"We've been consulting on some propositions we put out a few months ago and will be making final decisions about that before too long," English told reporters in Auckland.

"We're listening to what's being said. We're well aware of the strong demand for jobs, and we will take that into account when finalising the policy," he was reported as saying.

Here's Shane Cowlishaw's piece from mid-April on the changes, and my piece the next day from hospitality operators in Queenstown and Auckland saying the changes would hit them hard.

3. Labour's education policy

Newsroom's National Affairs Editor Shane Cowlishaw looked in depth on Friday at Labour's announcement of its education policy.

He found it would bring a smile to the face of teachers and union supporters, but contained little that had not already been seen before.

See Shane's full analysis and report on the policy, which was published first on Newsroom Pro on Friday.

4. People in the news

Kelvin Davis - In another sign of disunity within the Opposition, the Labour MP for Te Tai Tokerau has threated to resign if a Labour Government closed down two charter schools set up in the north. (RNZ)

Paula Bennett - The Deputy Prime Minister's early life as a solo mum on the benefit in the Hawkes Bay was put under the microscope in this Sunday Star Times piece by Tony Wall, which includes some colourful details about her connections to the Napier Tattoo Club. Wall also asks questions about whether Bennett might have claimed benefits she was not entitled to. Bennett's office denied she had claimed benefits she was not entitled to.

Judith Collins - The Revenue Minister talked to Lisa Owen on The Nation on Saturday and said she had asked for advice on whether corporate charities (such as Sanitarium) should be paying more tax, but had decided it was not a priority at the moment. She also said she and Joyce planned to announce new Base Erosion Profit Shifting (BEPS) measures in the next month or so that would lift multinational taxes by "at least $300 million."

Shamubeel Eaqub - The economist renowned for warning about over-valued housing announced in his Sunday Star Times column he and his wife Selena had finally bought a house in Auckland. "The fundamental reason why we paid such an eye-watering amount of money for a house is security. Our rental market is broken. There seems little appetite in our politics to tackle this obvious first step to solving our housing crisis: make renting better," he wrote.

5. Number of the day

40,000 - The number of New Zealanders estimated to be living on the streets or in emergency or sub-standard housing situations. This was almost one percent of the population and the highest in the OECD, as measured in this Yale magazine article and in the chart above.

6. While you were sleeping

British Prime Minister Theresa May was reported over the weekend to be softening Britain's approach to Brexit negotiations after protests from business leaders, including a move to allow a long transition period on freedom of movement. (Bloomberg)

President Donald Trump tweeted late on Saturday that he believed he had complete power to issue pardons, which appeared to confirm earlier reports that he is considering pardoning family members or even himself over collusion with Russia. (New York Times)

7. Coming up...

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is visiting New Zealand today and tomorrow.

Prime Minister Bill English is expected to hold a post-cabinet news conference this afternoon, having been on school holidays last week.

Parliament resumes on Tuesday for a four week block before rising on August 17 for the election on September 23.

8. One fun thing

Sharon Murdoch's cartoon on Winston Peters' rapidly multiplying bottom lines is almost painful to view, but in a good way. "Every time he clenches, there's another bottom line."