Infrastructure and development projects will be an important part of any post COVID-19 economic recovery, and there has been a lot of talk about getting "shovel ready" projects up and running as soon as possible.
The challenge for many developers and infra providers is that you can't be "shovel ready" until you have all necessary consents, designations and/or property rights (let alone funding…) to get those shovels in the ground. The Government has confirmed over the weekend they are focused on alleviating some of those pressures through the development of "fast track consenting" legislation to simplify and speed up the consenting process for such projects (see press release here
). Legislation can be expected in June (see our recent insight on earlier developments on fast-tracking infrastructure here
The balancing act for this Government is to develop legislation that will genuinely accelerate the consenting process, while still protecting (or even enhancing) environmental bottom lines.
In essence, the proposed Bill will enable eligible projects to obtain consent or designations significantly faster than the standard resource management processes (or even existing RMA "fast tracked" processes like direct referral and boards of inquiry) allow, and will endeavour to ensure a level of certainty about the grant of consent. Speed and certainty will be achieved by reducing or removing steps in the usual RMA consenting process, such as notification and hearings, and limiting appeal rights. The Panel will have shortened timeframes for decision making.
Apart from a limited number of large Government-led projects which will be listed in the Bill and be able to use the new process automatically, the legislation will allow applicants to seek approval from the Minister to use the special process. If the Minister approves use of the new process for these projects, applications will be heard by an expert consenting panel who may invite comment from certain listed stakeholders. Projects which deliver jobs, as well as those which will help alleviate housing challenges, encourage active transport and enhance the environment, will be prioritised.
Part 2 of the RMA and existing national direction will still apply in order to ensure that environmental bottom lines are protected.
The Bill is intended to be in place only for two years.
The Government's proposal has received a positive reception from the infrastructure sector and cautious support from environmental groups. Speed and certainty of consent will be welcome concepts for many applicants, and this legislation will be an interesting test of whether we can actually achieve it.
Please do not hesitate to contact one of our experts if you would like to discuss the implications of the proposed Bill for your business.