Fast-tracking resource consents for critical infrastructure and development projects is a pragmatic and welcome government response to assisting the Covid 19 recovery process says Resource Reform NZ, a coalition of business and environmental interests
The Minister for the Environment David Parker has today announced fast-track amendments to the Resource Management Act to better enable economic recovery from Covid-19. The temporary amendments to the Act will be made in June.
Resource Reform NZ (RRNZ) supports key elements in the proposed amendment bill which include rapid approvals for selected public and private sector projects and a commitment to retain environmental bottom lines. Often lengthy public consultation processes will also be put on temporary hold while the amendments place Central Government requirements for the economic rebuild as a main driver for consents.
The Minister’s announcement recognises the need to remove some of the structural issues in the RMA, that the Group identified in its work programme since 2016, which have proved incompatible to the need to provide a faster infrastructure response to accommodate previous rapid growth.
They are the same issues that would prevent a rapid start to the Government’s programme to accelerate shovel-ready and other infrastructure projects as it seeks to ramp up activity and employment in the infrastructure sector post Covid 19.
Under the proposed amendments selected public or private projects will go through a bespoke approvals process with the Minister acting as gatekeeper. RRNZ looks forward to seeing the criteria he must apply as these will be critical to ensure projects are transformational, provide the necessary high levels of employment and meet longer term strategies and goals for infrastructure provision in New Zealand – three waters projects are one example.
The commitment to retain environmental bottom lines is also critical as many environmental indicators are trending downwards. We want an economic recovery that improves the environment.
Local government also has a key role to play in supporting these changes, maximising the infrastructure opportunities in their areas and ensuring those longer term environmental and social goals are met.
The Randerson Review highlighted risks, costs and lack of financial incentives for local and regional projects. Councils face a 10-25% drop in revenues as a result of COVID-19, limited ability to increase rates and growth councils are capped on ability to borrow. For local and regional councils and the private sector to stimulate the economy and address environmental (including climate change) challenges, emergency changes to resource management system barriers at the local level will also be required.
It’s important that the short-term measures – the amendments have a two-year life cycle – do not delay or derail the meaningful resource management reform currently being carried out by the reform review panel being chaired by Hon Tony Randerson.
In two years the Randerson Panel’s recommendations should be ready for implementation with long-term provisions to speed up decision-making while protecting environmental standards.
With cross-party political support the temporary measure announced by Minister Parker could be an important step to achieving the long-term reform of the RMA that all parties now agree is necessary for the environmental, social and economic future of New Zealand.
What more is needed?
“The Government’s confirmation that Resource Management Act (RMA) consenting processes will be streamlined is great news for the recovery but must be just the start of the reform process,” says Paul Blair, Chief Executive of RRNZ partner Infrastructure New Zealand.
“The RMA has become a litigious, cumbersome, and complex piece of legislation. It was never intended to be applied the way it has been, and it was not designed to facilitate recovery from something like the COVID-19 lockdown.
“New Zealand has several successful RMA fast-track precedents, notably after the Christchurch and Kaikōura earthquakes.
“The two-year sunset clause on the fast-track measures should align well with the longer–term resource management reforms being considered by the Randerson Review.
“It is now imperative that the Government also aligns both immediate and longer–term RMA reforms with wider planning and consenting statutes.
“If projects receive RMA approval only to be held up by business case or Local Government Act process requirements, then we won’t get the progress we need.
“Parallel processes are required, so that projects can move through RMA fast-tracking at the same time as design, effects modelling, procurement and funding details are confirmed.
“Eighty per cent of construction projects in New Zealand come from the private sector and local government. Now is the time to experiment with risk and reward conditions to fast track projects of all sizes, not just the big ones we can all name from memory.
“Infrastructure New Zealand’s Building Regions proposal provides a pathway to implementing this reform.
“We have the opportunity to not just get our country moving in the short term, but also to set it up for the success in the long-term.