Fast-track legislation to sidestep the RMA and shave years off new projects has initially favoured ‘green’ investment in higher density housing, rail and cycling over ‘grey’ roads, Dileepa Fonseka reports

Over the next two years job-heavy projects will go through a fast-track consenting process if they secure the Environment Minister’s approval. 

The Covid-19 Recovery (Fast-track consenting) Bill will be introduced to Parliament this week. It will go through a short select committee process that will report back to Parliament on June 29 if the bill successfully passes its first reading.

Eleven projects will be explicitly named in the legislation and side-step RMA processes after the bill is passed. They will go to an expert consenting panel that will process them in less than 70 days. 

“We wanted to make sure that the response to Covid doesn’t take the nation in the wrong direction.”

The Expert Consenting Panels of three to four people will be chaired by a senior RMA lawyer or Environment Court Judge and include representatives from local authorities and iwi.

Projects that aren’t named in the legislation can be referred to the panels by the Minister for the Environment.

KiwiRail and NZTA will also gain the ability to repair, maintain and conduct minor upgrade works on existing road and rail infrastructure without a resource consent. 

Environment Minister David Parker stressed a lot of protections for the environment would still remain as would the Crown’s Treaty of Waitangi obligations.

Grey versus Green

A debate centred on “grey” versus “green” infrastructure has arisen recently, spurred on by Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones who said an approved list of “shovel-ready” projects wouldn’t usher in a “new economic nirvana” based on green economics.

However, only one roading project had made its way onto the list of eleven fast-tracked projects.

“We wanted to make sure that the response to Covid doesn’t take the nation in the wrong direction,” Parker said.

“One of the concerns that was expressed when we announced this fast-track process was that we would be building…coal-fired power stations and only roads.”

“So we’ve been deliberate in our attempt to project some balance here.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the first tranche of 11 projects had been chosen because they were “ready to go” and provided at least 1200 jobs.

“They align with the long-term challenges the Government was taking on before Covid arrived in housing, the environment and transport.”

Parker said the process would save some transport projects two years in terms of consenting timeframes. 

“We are truncating rights and public participation and it shouldn’t last forever. So the legislation will self-repeal in two years time.”

Parker said the panels would consider a “substantial” number of projects overall, but the exact figures would depend on exactly how many of the Infrastructure Industry Reference Group’s suggestions made it through..

A long list of over 1800 “shovel-ready” projects are currently being considered by Cabinet for funding through a $3b infrastructure fund. A significant number of these were expected to go through the consenting panels when they were approved.

“It relies upon people coming to us showing that they’re job-rich that they’re ready to go…and that going through this short-track process will actually get people employed.”

“Because the purpose of this is employment.”

The eleven projects

  • Kaikohe water storage facility – to provide drinking water and water for agricultural and horticultural use.
  • Unitec – Phase 1 – high density housing on the Unitec site in Auckland.
  • Te Pa Tahuna – Phase 1 –  up to 180 residential units and retail space on an old school site in Queenstown – part of a wider development that aims to create up to 300 high density dwellings.
  • Papakāinga Network Development – the delivery of Papakainga across six sites; in Kaitaia, Pt Chevalier, Raglan, Waitara, Chatham Islands and Christchurch. This project will support the Government to provide up to 120 dwellings. Delivered by Māori developers with support from Te Puni Kōkiri.
  • Britomart East Upgrade – upgrades to Britomart station to ensure the City Rail Link project can operate at full capacity once services commence
  • Papakura to Pukekohe electrification – electrification of rail from Papakura to Pukekohe and the construction of three rail platforms. This project aims to extend Auckland metro services south to Pukekohe providing South Auckland with increased lower emissions transport choice. 
  • Wellington Metro Upgrade programme – suite of smaller projects aimed at increasing the passenger and freight capacity of trains between Masterton, Levin and Wellington. Works will involve upgrading drainage, new tracks, upgrading stations, new storage yards, and the establishment and operation of a gravel extraction site.
  • Picton Ferry Dock and Terminal upgrade – The project will improve rail services by expanding the docks and upgrading the passenger terminal. This project is expected to create 200 jobs. KiwiRail notes that the design of the new terminal takes into account 100 years of projected sea level rise. 
  • Northern Pathway – a cycleway and walkway between Westhaven and Akoranga in Auckland. This project aims to create a safe and useable active transport corridor for the North Shore and aims to increase the number of people cycling for commuting and recreation.
  • Papakura to Drury SH1 roading upgrade – upgrades to SH1 to improve its capacity, as well as constructing new walking and cycling facilities to improve highway access and safety. This project aims to respond to population growth and provide transport options for people in South Auckland. 
  • Te Ara Tūpuna – a cycleway and walkway between Petone and Ngauranga in Wellington. This project will improve the safety and usability of an existing cycleway and aims to increase the number of people cycling for commuting, recreation and tourism. This project is expected to create between 30 and 40 jobs and is an opportunity to strengthen existing sea walls and structures to make it more resilient to sea level rise and increased storm events.

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