Planners cautiously welcome Government’s fast track consenting

By NZPI treasurer Jonathan Clease & NZPI chair Karyn Sinclair

The New Zealand Planning Institute (NZPI) cautiously welcomes the Government’s announcement of fast-tracked consenting for eligible development and infrastructure projects, but says it is important that environmental and community outcomes are not sacrificed in the process.

Minister for the Environment, David Parker announced in the first week of May that Cabinet had approved the fast tracking of consent processes and the legislation is expected to be passed in June.

The Minister will identify projects to go into the fast track resource consenting process and these will be considered by an Expert Consenting Panel, chaired by a current or retired Environment Court Judge or senior lawyer.

This fast tracking is part of the Government’s approach to getting key infrastructure and development projects underway during the COVID-19 recovery phase.

“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,” says Minister Parker in a release announcing the new process.

“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.”

The Minister said earlier that while the Resource Management Act (RMA) is the primary legislation that manages our built and natural environment, “in these extraordinary times we do not want the standard RMA consenting processes to constrain the pace of recovery.” The Minister’s position supports the move by Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford and Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones to establish a group of industry leaders to identify projects that are ‘shovel-ready’, meaning they can start within six months of restrictions being lifted.

NZPI treasurer Jonathan Clease says, “While we are generally supportive of the need to get things moving, it’s also important that we ensure the RMA’s safeguards are not completely overlooked and that we preserve transparency of decision making.

“Fast tracking must not become rubber stamping and there should still be some provision for community input so that people understand these projects and what is happening through fast tracking. This is especially important if we are to have robust decisions that will stand up to possible scrutiny in any resulting legal appeals.

“As the Minister has said, these are exceptional times and we need to be creative in how we approach the challenges ahead.” NZPI chair Karyn Sinclair

says while the planning industry supports the Government’s efforts to stimulate the economy, care needs to be taken to ensure projects still benefit the public and protect environmental bottom lines.

“NZPI is well aware of the need to ensure that the economy can regain traction as widely and as quickly as possible to minimise the continued pain that is being felt throughout New Zealand,” Karyn says.

“We want to ensure that the economic reboot occurs in a manner that respects the environment and offers lasting positive outcomes for our communities.

“Our goal is to enable employment generating projects, while retaining checks and balances around environment and community outcomes. It would be inappropriate to prioritise short term jobs over enduring positive community outcomes.

“We are pleased to see the inclusion of a broad range of infrastructure and development projects – such as community facilities and social infrastructure like cycleways – being proposed for this process. We also welcome the opportunity for projects seeking long term positive outcomes, such as work to protect closed landfills from erosion.”

NZPI is liaising with the Government and has offered its support to the recovery initiative. “Planners play a key role in ensuring that the transition of projects from proposal to completion is as efficient as possible,” Karyn says.

“Given NZPI’s understanding of the process and where hold-ups are most likely to occur, we are well placed to assist the Government in ensuring the proposed legislation does what is intended and leads to positive and enduring environmental and social outcomes,” she says.

“The composition of the new fast track decision making panels will be very important. Members will need expertise in decision making as well as project implementation. The need to fast track cannot be allowed to override community concerns.”

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