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Environment Minister David Parker: Fast-track consenting to boost jobs while protecting the environment

Opinion 22/06/2020

This oped is written for Magic Talk by Environment Minister, David Parker.

OPINION: As we face the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on all our lives it is vital that we rebuild our economy and get people into work as soon as possible.

This week we introduced an important building block of that work, in the shape of the COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track consenting) Bill – a law change that will, as its name suggests, streamline the process of consenting some important and job-rich infrastructure projects.

The first 11 proposed projects are named in the Bill – although that list may be added to or subtracted from by the select committee and as we work through the legislative process. 

These initial projects, which are central and local government-led, will be directly referred to the newly formed Expert Consenting Panels for decisions and to set any conditions. They include a diverse range of projects including rail upgrades, residential housing, papakainga developments, roading and water storage located across the country from Kaikohe to Queenstown and out to the Chathams.   

For example, in Wellington, Te Ara Tupua, a new shared path will be constructed between Ngauranga and Petone improving safety and usability for recreational cyclists and commuters - while of course reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions. A water storage facility in Kaikohe will provide for agriculture and horticultural use as well as town drinking water. The upgrade of the Picton ferry terminal and dock will improve rail services and create 200 jobs.

We estimate these 11 projects will create 1250-plus jobs and this is just the start.  

Beyond those named projects we have also set up a “second track” under which eligible projects, both public and private, can apply to the me, in my role as Minister for the Environment, to enter the fast track process. If I am satisfied it meets the purpose of the Bill, the project can gain access to the accelerated consenting process through an Order in Council and be considered by a panel. 

I will be looking for such things as the economic benefits a project brings to communities and industries, the environmental outcomes, and the public benefit that would accrue from a project.

These Panels of three to four people will be led by an Environment Court Judge or similarly qualified person.  Both local government and iwi will have a seat on the panel, which will bring the knowledge and expertise needed to make the appropriate decisions.   

Consents often take many months, and sometimes years if appealed. This panel process will be much faster - between 45 and 70 working days. Some transport projects will be able to start one to two years sooner under the fast track process, depending on the conditions set by the panels. 

The fast track Bill also enables some work to be carried out without the need for a resource consent, such as specific works by KiwiRail on their existing infrastructure.

However, despite the fast track process we want to ensure environmental outcomes will not be sacrificed at the expense of speed.  So Part 2 of the RMA still applies to these projects, including its central purpose - to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources. For example how will a project contribute to waste minimisation and the mitigation of climate change?

Furthermore, all actions under the legislation must be consistent with both the principles of the Treaty and Treaty settlement obligations. 

The Bill will self-repeal in two years, by which time we will be implementing comprehensive reform of the RMA, drawing on the far-reaching review that is due to report in the next couple of months.

As I have said before, extraordinary times sometimes call for extraordinary measures. This Bill will help restore the economy and create more jobs sooner, which we all agree is vitally important.

More information about the COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track consenting) Bill can be found here.

David Parker is the Environment Minister.