Streamlined consents to boost jobs and economic recovery

  • Hon David Parker

The Government has today announced 11 infrastructure projects that will be fast-tracked under a new law to help rebuild the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The specific projects are listed in the COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track) Bill that will be introduced In the House later this week. The Bill also opens the way for other projects to be fast tracked to help deliver faster economic growth and more jobs as soon as possible,” Environment Minister David Parker said.

“Job rich infrastructure and development projects of different sizes and in different locations around New Zealand will be prioritised.

“Extraordinary times sometimes require extraordinary measures. However, positive environmental outcomes will not be sacrificed at the expense of speed. While these projects are being advanced in time, environmental safeguards remain. Part 2 of the Resource Management Act including the recognition of matters of national importance, will continue to apply.

“Furthermore, the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, and Treaty Settlement obligations apply to all projects under this Bill.”

The new Bill allows for projects to proceed through a fast track consenting process down three pathways.

On the first track are the 11 Government-led projects specified in the legislation and assessed as suitable for the fast-track process. They range from roads to cycleways, rail upgrades, water storage, and housing developments and have the potential to provide an estimated 1250-plus jobs.

Once the Bill passes these projects will be referred directly to Expert Consenting Panels, which will set appropriate conditions on the projects before they can proceed.

Expert consenting panels will have similar powers to consenting authorities under the RMA.

The second track applies to applications from other public and private projects that will be considered by the Minister for the Environment before being forwarded to the panel.

“We are looking forward to ideas from a range of people and organisations including district and regional councils, iwi authorities, NGO’s and the private sector.” David Parker said.

Applicants must provide information to the Minister on how the project meets the criteria specified in the Bill. Projects that qualify will be referred to Panels for consideration through an Order in Council.

Notified applications for resource consents take on average around four to six months to process, depending on the complexity, significance and the level of contention involved. The new fast track processes are likely to take 45 to 70 working days.

Some transport projects will be able to start one to two years sooner under the fast track measure, depending on conditions set by the panel.

Thirdly there is an ability for Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, and KiwiRail Holdings Ltd to undertake repair, maintenance and minor upgrade works on existing infrastructure in the road and rail corridor as a permitted activity, which means it would not require a resource consent, but is subject to certain standards.

“Accelerating these projects will create opportunities for more employment and a boost to local economies,” David Parker said.

The fast track law is a short term intervention that will self-repeal in two years.

“The current comprehensive review of the RMA, which I expect to release before the election, will set out proposals for long term reform to fix the issues that have plagued the resource management system for many years. 

“But until then, the RMA is still the main pathway for resource consenting for all other projects.”