Freshwater commissioners and fast-track consenting convenor appointed

  • Hon David Parker

Professor Peter Skelton CNZM has been appointed as Chief Freshwater Commissioner and Alternate Environment Court Judge Craig James Thompson as Deputy Chief Freshwater Commissioner for the newly established Freshwater Planning Process (FPP).

Environment Minister David Parker today also announced the appointment of Chief Environment Court Judge Laurie Newhook as the Convener of the Expert Consenting Panels for fast-track consenting, upon his retirement from Chief Judge on 7 July 2020.

Freshwater Plans

The FPP was introduced by the Resource Management Amendment Act 2020 to enable regional councils and unitary authorities to make changes to their freshwater plans in a more efficient way than the current RMA schedule 1 planning process.

Regional councils and unitary authorities must use the FPP for proposed freshwater provisions in regional policy statements and plans.

“The FPP marks a significant shift in freshwater planning, I expect to see significant improvements to environmental outcomes resulting from plan-making under the FPP,” David Parker said.

“It supports an accelerated process for regional freshwater plan changes that will implement the new National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 announced in May and expected to be gazetted in August.

“Professor Skelton and Judge Thompson bring a wealth of experience in environmental planning processes.”

“I am confident they will establish a suitable process for us to deliver on our commitment to stop further degradation, make immediate improvements and our waterways to health within a generation.”

The Chief Freshwater Commissioner oversees the FPP and convenes independent freshwater hearings panels with enhanced hearing powers. The panels will be made up of freshwater commissioners and nominees from council and tangata whenua.

Covid-19 fast track Consents

Judge Newhook’s appointment reflects the level of expertise needed to evaluate the projects proposed under the COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Act passed last week. The Act will support the country’s economic recovery after the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Projects are referred to Expert Consenting Panels to determine resource consents and designations. They can enter the fast-track consenting process by either being listed in the legislation (track one) or by application to the Minister for the Environment who will refer suitable projects to the Panels through an Order in Council process (track two).

Judge Newhook has been Principal Environment Judge since 2011, is now Chief Environment Court Judge, and has been a Judge of the Court since 2001.

Before becoming a Judge, he had over thirty years' experience as legal counsel, with a particular emphasis on environmental matters, land, property, and maritime laws.

His three year term will expire one year after the fast track Act self-repeals in two years’ time.

Judge Newhook will appoint and manage the Expert Consenting Panels that will determine the consents and designation for projects that have been referred to the fast-track process. The panels will comprise a minimum of three commissioners and collectively must have resource management knowledge, skills, and expertise; technical expertise relevant to the project, and expertise in tikanga Māori and mātauranga Māori.

Each panel will be chaired by a current or retired Environment Court Judge or senior RMA lawyer, and must include a nominee from relevant local authorities and a nominee from the relevant iwi authorities. Judge Newhook may chair some of the panels.

About the Chief Freshwater Commissioner – Professor Peter Skelton

Professor Skelton CNZM brings 22 years’ experience as a Judge of the Environment Court, before spending six years teaching and examining environmental law at Lincoln University. In 2016, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Natural Resources by Lincoln University. He is one of the founders of the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand and was its first New Zealand vice-president. In 2007, he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Institute.

His term as the Chief Freshwater Commissioner is for 18 months and ends in January 2022.

About Freshwater Commissioner – Judge Thompson

Judge Thompson practised in Wellington and Blenheim from 1974 until being appointed Crown Counsel in the Crown Law Office in 1983. In 1985, he was made Deputy Solicitor-General for New Zealand. He was a member of the legislation advisory committee from its inception in 1986 until he was appointed as a District Court judge in 1992. He was appointed as an alternate Environment Court judge in 2001, becoming a full-time Environment Court judge in August 2003. His term as Freshwater Commissioner is for 30 months and ends in January 2023.

About the Chief Environment Court Judge L J Newhook

Judge Laurie Newhook has been the Head of the New Zealand Environment Court since 2011, and a Judge of the Court since 2001. Prior to that he was counsel and had more than 30 years of advocacy experience to that point, with particular emphasis on environmental matters, land, property, and maritime laws. He has hosted international delegations from many parts of the world, and chaired and presented at International Fora for Environment Judges, Oslo, Norway, June 2016 and Auckland, April 2017.