Government fast-tracking RMA procedures, green concerns

The Government is changing the law to enable the fast-tracking of Resource Management Act procedures

Beehive:  Fast-track consenting to get shovel-ready projects moving

The Government has announced a major element of its COVID-19 rebuild plan with a law change that will fast track eligible development and infrastructure projects under the Resource Management Act to help get New Zealand moving again.

Environment Minister David Parker said the sorts of projects that would benefit from quicker consenting included roading, walking and cycling, rail, housing, sediment removal from silted rivers and estuaries, new wetland construction, flood management works, and projects to prevent landfill erosion.

The changes were approved by Cabinet last week and new legislation is expected to be passed in June.

“We are acting quickly to get the economy moving again and our people working. Part 2 of the RMA will still be applied. Projects are being advanced in time, but environmental safeguards remain,” David Parker said.

If the process can be sped up like this without compromising on environmental safeguards why couldn’t something like this have been done years ago?

“The consenting and approval processes that are used in normal circumstances don’t provide the speed and certainty we need now in response to the economic fallout from COVID-19. The new processes will get projects started sooner and people into jobs faster.

“Investment in infrastructure is central to the Government’s economic plan to keep New Zealanders in jobs. We have already signalled major projects as part of the $12 billion New Zealand Upgrade project.

“Ideas from district and regional councils as well as NGOs and the private sector will be considered.

“Job-rich projects like core infrastructure, housing, and environmental restoration are crucial to the Government’s plan to stimulate the economy and help us recover from the damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Some large-scale government-led projects, including those in the NZTA’s Land Transport Programme, will be named in the legislation to go through the fast-track consent process. Some works by government agencies will be able to start “as of right”.

“Projects that help alleviate housing challenges, encourage active transport and enhance the environment are prioritised under the proposal,” David Parker said.

I wonder if this will be a temporary fast tracking or a permanent reform.

RNZ: Government looks to fast-track infrastructure projects after lockdown

Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones said it was important that those projects get back under way as soon as possible because of the wider impact on the nation.

“You’ve got 300,000 Kiwis approaching a level of joblessness that no one of my generation ever saw – and I was a child of Rogernomics.

“We have got to be prepared to follow basically the old saying of Machiavelli … which is never squander a good crisis to address issues that ordinarily you wouldn’t do.

“As I’ve said in the past, needs must where the devil drives.”

Mark Binns is the chair of the infrastructure industry reference group leading the project, and said creating jobs was one of the key focuses of the group.

“What we’re looking to do is obviously support New Zealanders in jobs and support key strategic disciplines in horizontal and vertical building around the country, so we’re looking right around the country in all the regions as to where we can help and we will have a list with the ministers sometime in early May.”

Construction businesses endorsed the move, with Fulton Hogan managing director Cos Bruyn saying the announcement gave him confidence – but it was still a case of wait and see.

While Greens have been suggesting that projects that help the climate and the environment should be given priority they are wary of speeding up processes.

RNZ:  Greens raise concerns about planned law to fast-track resource consents

The new legislation, due to be passed in June, would take away the ability of the public and councils to have input into whether projects proceed and instead hand this power to a small panels of experts, chaired by an Environment Court judge.

Decisions would be issued within 25 working days and, while existing Treaty of Waitangi settlements would be upheld, appeal rights would be limited to points of law and judicial review.

Greens co-leader Marama Davidson said her party objected to removing public consultation, even for a limited time.

“This is why I want to hear from the public, and iwi and hapū, with concerns to the select committee process … we will be listening and taking on those concerns to get further improvements to this bill.”

That sounds like it could take a lot longer than the Government would like, but the the Greens may be impotent on this.

Labour, New Zealand First, National and ACT are all agreed on something – the RMA is not doing its job.

National’s spokesperson for RMA reform, Judith Collins, said it was about time changes were made and her party would likely consider the changes “favourably” once it had a chance to see the details.

“It does seem to me to be a recognition the RMA is not fit for purpose for doing almost anything.”

Mike Smith from the National Iwi Chairs Forum is leading their work on the matter – he will be meeting with ministers about it later today.

He said they’re glad to see environmental initiatives are now more front and centre and that land returned via treaty settlements will be protected from development.

The legislation risks poor decision making, Jen Miller of Forest and Bird told Morning Report.

There is a lack of clarity and communication about what the legislation will mean for the environment, she said.

She isn’t confident that the decision-making process will factor in a large project’s long term environmental effects.

Under the RMA there’s been ongoing destruction of the environment, she said.

“Climate disruption will cause huge impacts on people and our environment.

“In our view, projects need to provide help genuinely provide opportunities for recovery for people and the planet.”

That has conflicted with growth and ‘progress’, and is now going to come up against the rush to reinvigorate business and the economy after the Covid shock.