Submission: Fast-Track Approvals Bill

18 April, 2024

1.1 This submission on the Fast-Track Approvals Bill is made by The New Zealand Initiative (the Initiative), a Wellington-based think tank supported primarily by major New Zealand businesses. In combination, our members employ more than 150,000 people. 

1.2 The Initiative undertakes research that contributes to the development of sound public policies in New Zealand and we advocate for the creation of a competitive, open and dynamic economy and a free, prosperous, fair and cohesive society.  

1.3 The Initiative’s members span the breadth of the New Zealand economy; a well-functioning and efficient approvals regime for infrastructure and development projects is important to them. The views expressed in this submission are those of the author rather than the New Zealand Initiative’s members. 

1.4 In summary, we submit: 

(a) The status quo of slow and costly consenting processes under the Resource Management Act (RMA) and other conservation legislation is undesirable. Reform is needed to reduce delays and costs for major infrastructure and development projects. 

(b) The Fast-Track Approvals Bill is a necessary step to streamline decision-making for projects with significant economic benefits, and it should proceed. However, the Bill has some shortcomings that need to be addressed: 

(i) Eligibility criteria for fast-tracking should include economic efficiency. Cost-benefit analysis should be used to prioritise competing projects.  

(ii) Expert panels assessing projects should include expertise in economic analysis, in addition to their other skills and knowledge. 

(iii) Ministers should have stronger disclosure requirements for contact with applicants, reasons for declining expert panel recommendations, and political donations. Alternatively, the Committee could consider whether expert panels should be made the final decision-makers. 

(iv) The Minister for the Environment should be included as a joint decision-maker to ensure environmental considerations are given due weight. 

(v) A sunset clause should make the fast-track process temporary until the RMA is replaced, to avoid it becoming entrenched.  

(vi) Reconsenting of major existing infrastructure should be eligible for fast-tracking. 

(vii) Interconnectedness of critical infrastructure should be factored into the fast-track process. 

(c) The ultimate goal should be an RMA and conservation legislation that efficiently enables beneficial projects to proceed, while respecting property rights and protecting important environmental and conservation values. This should greatly reduce the need for a separate fast-track process. 

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