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 (RMA) to help get New Zealand moving again.
Environment Minister David Parker says 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 recently, 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,” Parker says.
“We went hard and early to beat the virus, and now we’re doing the same to get the economy moving too.
“The success of our health response gives us a head start on the world to get our economy moving again, and this fast-tracking process will allow our economic recovery to accelerate.
“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,” Parker says.
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,” Parker says.
A number of “shovel-ready” projects identified by the Infrastructure Industry Reference Group are likely to be accelerated under the fast-track consenting process.
These are “ready to go” developments which can start once the construction industry returns to normal.
Parker will determine which projects will enter the fast-track resource consenting process for public and private-led projects, with reference to criteria, and with projects named through Orders in Council.
Designations for public assets and infrastructure can also be part of this fast-track process.
The resource consent applications for these projects will be processed by an Expert Consenting Panel. Once a project is referred to the Panel there is a high level of certainty the resource consent will be granted.
The Expert Consenting Panels will be chaired by a current or retired Environmental Court judge or senior lawyer. Each panel will have a person nominated by the relevant local councils and a person nominated by the relevant iwi authorities.
The Panels will have expertise in resource management, technical project advice, environmental protection, tikanga Maori and matauranga Maori.
The panels will issue decisions within 25 working days after receiving comments on the application, although this could be increased to 50 days for large scale projects.
Existing Treaty of Waitangi settlements will be upheld, as will sustainable management and existing RMA national direction.
Appeal rights will be limited to points of law and/or judicial review to the High Court, with one further right of appeal to the Court of Appeal.
The fast-track process is designed as a short-term intervention to help with economic recovery from Covid-19, and the legislation will be repealed in two years.