Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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'Where has all the planning gone?' - The Ministry of Works, the Tongariro Power Development development and the construction of New Zealand’s renewable electricity infrastructure 1945-1985

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posted on 2023-12-14, 09:39 authored by Gillian Tompsett

The civil works for the majority of New Zealand’s hydro-electricity schemes still in use today were investigated, designed and constructed by government agency the Ministry of Works, between 1945 and 1985, on behalf of the New Zealand Electricity Department. These schemes were built in response to a severe electricity shortage after the Second World War, alongside an average 8% annual increase in demand, which lasted until the late 1960s. By 1982 New Zealanders enjoyed some of the cheapest power prices in the world, derived from a sophisticated, largely renewable electricity infrastructure network, which at the time generated $30 million annually in revenue. This remarkable achievement by the Ministry of Works stands in contrast to an entrenched view which has circulated since the time of its abolition in 1988 of an inefficient, bloated organisation prone to cost overruns. Specifically, this thesis focuses upon the Tongariro Power Development (TPD), a complex and largely underground scheme, which was managed by the Ministry of Works and investigated, designed and built in collaboration with local and international agencies; both public and private. In addition to covering the construction of the scheme, the thesis discusses how the Department functioned and the working environment of its employees at all levels. The overarching purpose of this research therefore, is to reconstruct and re-evaluate what seems to be a largely untold story, retrieved from interviews, archives, newspapers and journals, about how the Ministry of Works responded during a period of crisis in New Zealand’s history. Given the failure of the market economy which replaced it to produce a coherent response in the face of a national infrastructure crisis, as well as unprecedented climate change, this is timely research.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


McAloon, Jim