For a better fast-track

Insights Newsletter
19 April, 2024

Under a better Resource Management system, there would be no need for fast-track approval processes. The fast process would simply be the process. Until that better system is in place, the government’s proposed Fast-Track Approvals Bill can help. But it needs some refinements.
Slow and costly consenting processes impose a substantial burden for relatively little environmental benefit.
In 2021, the Infrastructure Commission estimated that consenting costs almost $1.3 billion per year – excluding costs of processes from other conservation legislation. It also excludes the costs incurred by non-infrastructure development projects, such as housing, mining, and aquaculture. The time taken for consenting has also increased significantly in recent years.
The proposed Fast-Track Approvals Bill will streamline decision-making for projects with significant national and regional economic benefits, providing a one-stop shop across multiple pieces of legislation. Rather than face approvals and court challenges across multiple pieces of legislation, projects will instead receive a rapid decision.
Our submission on the Bill urges that eligibility for fast-tracking should be informed by economic efficiency and rigorous cost-benefit analysis to enable effective project prioritisation. The expert panels assessing projects and recommending consent conditions to decision-making Ministers should also have economic expertise alongside the other skills set out in the Bill.
Where there are risks of at least the perception of impropriety in decisions, Ministers need strong disclosure requirements around lobbying and campaign donations. They should disclose reasons for not adopting expert panel recommendations. Perhaps the panels should decide rather than Ministers.
The Bill’s prioritisation of economic development has raised objections. But too many high-value projects have been stuck for too long in the current system. There are still environmental safeguards in the Bill, but we think the Minister for the Environment should also be a joint decision-maker. A sunset clause would make clear that fast-tracking is an interim solution until more fundamental RMA reform is in place.
The fast-track process should also encompass reconsenting of major existing infrastructure, such as wastewater plants and stormwater discharges. And it should cover interconnected components of projects – think of all the different infrastructure needed for a housing development.
Ultimately, the RMA and conservation laws need to efficiently approve projects with net positive impacts, while respecting property rights and protecting important environmental values. In such a framework, separate fast-tracking would be unnecessary. But in the meantime, the Bill is a necessary step to unblock New Zealand's infrastructure pipeline and kickstart our sluggish economy.

Nick Clark's submission, Fast-Track Approvals Bill, was lodged on 18 April.

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