Environmentalists are worried over plans to bring in fast-track legislation for major infrastructure projects, with one group calling it a “war” on the natural world.
However, the Government has argued that overly restrictive consenting processes have long slowed down progress on projects. It said the time taken to get a consent has nearly doubled over the past five years – costing $1.3 billion a year.
The previous Labour government had a fast-tracking process during the pandemic, which the new government wants to make permanent and for much bigger projects.
RMA Reform Minister Chris Bishop said the proposal was a big change from the status quo but made no apologies for that.
“Yes, we are deliberately giving the executive central government more power to make sure we can cut through the thicket of red tape that has bedevilled infrastructure projects in New Zealand for far too long,” he told 1News.
Under the proposed law, ministers can refer projects for fast-tracking if they meet criteria. An expert panel will assess projects and apply any necessary conditions to ensure environmental damage is managed.
The panel only has limited ability to decline projects.
Bishop explained: “The discretion is being limited and that’s part of the design of the scheme. The Government is going to say, ‘we think these projects are needed.'”
But responding to the plan, the Environmental Defence Society said the plan means “war” on the natural world with the potential for “environmentally destructive projects” to go quickly ahead.
The advocacy group’s chief executive Gary Taylor also had concerns over due process.
“It will be giving developers the opportunity to lobby ministers for the pet projects. And that raises a whole lot of questions about transparency, about conflicts of interest.”
However, Bishop argues there are checks and balances on ministers.
“We have to go through the law that we’ll be writing, so we’ll have to assess the criteria.”
Forest and Bird chief executive Nicola Toki said it will be “death by a thousand cuts” for the natural world.
“New Zealanders should be alarmed that our incredible natural environment is being treated with such disdain at a time when we’re facing such significant loss.”
She’s also concerned about the limits on the democratic process.
“The lack of transparency and opportunity for the New Zealand public to participate in these processes is the most shocking thing.”
Only people affected by a project will be able to have their say. There’s no avenue for the general public to submit and environmental groups don’t have automatic standing, said Bishop.
“The ability of every man and his dog to have their say on every proposal, that has made it too hard to do things in New Zealand.”