Whistle-stop consenting for economic reboot - the COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-Track Consenting) Bill

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Cabinet has released a paper which provides further detail on the government’s proposal to fast track consenting processes for various projects to provide immediate economic stimulus. The process provides for three types of processes:

  • Specific large-scale government projects where approved resource consents and designations will be included in the Bill and work can start immediately;
  • Smaller-scale central and local government projects (e.g. smaller NZTA and KiwiRail maintenance or improvement activities within existing corridors) which will be able to proceed as of right subject to compliance with specific criteria (including capital value thresholds); and
  • Other publicly or privately led projects which will be subject to the Bill’s fast track resource consenting and designation process.

The Minister for the Environment must approve any project that wishes to use the fast-track process having regard to a number of factors such as economic benefits for communities or industries affected by COVID-19, social and cultural wellbeing, public benefits and improving environmental outcomes. Projects are then referred to an Expert Consenting Panel. An assessment of environmental effects must be prepared by the applicant but that assessment need not be as comprehensive as the current process. There is no public notification process but there will be a list of parties that the Panel must “invite comment from”.

In considering fast-track applications, the Panel apply Part 2 of the RMA alongside the purpose of the new Act as well as having regard to any relevant national direction, local authority plan or proposed plan, or other matter listed in section 104(1) of the RMA (when considering resource consents). The Panel can only decline the resource consents or designations for the reasons set out in the legislation (e.g. insufficient information, it does not promote Part 2 or would be inconsistent with freshwater objectives and policies).

While some of the details still need ironing out (e.g. the interface with the Public Works Act 1981 and whether infrastructure providers affected by fast-track proposals have the chance to comment on proposals of others), the new processes will be useful tools in the efforts to kick-start New Zealand’s economic recovery.

The cabinet paper is available here.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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