A hard yes or a hard no

The Coalition Government has progressed a key element of the 100-day plan, the Fast-Track Approvals Bill (Bill), marking a significant change in project approvals in New Zealand.

While the Bill is conceptually based on the existing fast track regime introduced by the Labour Government, it is considerably wider in its scope and provides a “one stop shop” for approvals of projects with significant regional or national benefits.

The “one stop shop” approach under the Bill will provide eligible projects with a definitive answer on their ability to proceed – either a hard yes, or a hard no.

Our key observations from the Bill are:

• The fast-track process will only be accessible for projects of regional or national significance. Criteria for the determination or regionally or nationally significant projects include delivering substantial economic gains, boosting housing supply, advancing significant infrastructure at regional or national levels, and aiding in the development of natural resources such as minerals and petroleum.

• As a one stop shop the Bill is set up to provide a wide range of approvals under the Resource Management Act (RMA), Conservation Act, Reserves Act, Wildlife Act, Fisheries Act, Crown Minerals Act. Public Works Act and Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act.

• There are two pathways for projects to enter the fast-track process. Projects listed in Schedule 2A of the Bill, which are ready for consent, will be automatically referred to the expert panel upon the Bill’s enactment. Alternatively, projects can apply to the Ministers for Infrastructure, Regional Development and Transport for access to the fast-track process, undergoing eligibility assessment with comments sought from local government and Māori groups. If deemed eligible by the Ministers, these projects will be listed in Schedule 2B of the Bill.

• In its current form the Bill does not include projects in Schedule 2. An advisory group of independent experts will be assembled to advise Ministers as to which projects should be included.

• Certain projects are ineligible for the fast-track process. This includes projects on Treaty settlement land without written agreement of the landowner, activities prohibited under the RMA relating to occupation of space in the common marine and coastal area and activities in certain conservation areas.

• No timeframe for Schedule 2A or 2B projects to lodge applications is available at this time.

• Applicants for the fast-track process will be required to engage with relevant local authorities and Māori groups and provide a record of this engagement and how it has informed the project.

• A prohibited activity status under the RMA does not necessarily render a project ineligible for the fast-track process.

• While fast tracked projects will be considered by an expert panel, the Ministers for Infrastructure, Regional Development and Transport (and in some cases the Minister of Conservation) will be the ultimate decision maker on the project. The expert panel’s role will be to consider how effects will be managed, seek comments from certain groups, draft conditions and provide a recommendation to the Ministers.

• When considering applications, the panel must consider the purpose of the Bill being to provide a fast-track decision making process that facilitates the delivery of infrastructure and development projects with significant regional or national benefits above the purposes and provisions of legislation that approvals are sought under. The relevance of the purpose of the RMA and associated planning documents is therefore watered down in decision making compared to a traditional RMA pathway.

• The expert panel is unable to seek public submissions and there is no requirement for a hearing to be held.

• Appeals to the High Court from a select group of parties will be limited to points of law, but the Bill does not limit or affect any right of judicial review.

The Bill is before the Environment Select Committee and is open for public submissions until 19 April 2024.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss any aspect of the Bill please get in touch with our Resource Management team.

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