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The Picton Ferry Precinct Redevelopment Project is one of 11 projects that have been identified for fast-tracking under new Covid-19 recovery legislation

Streamlined consents to boost jobs and economic recovery

The Government has announced 11 infrastructure projects that will be fast-tracked under a new law to help rebuild the economy after the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Covid-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Bill was introduced to Parliament on 16 June. If enacted, the bill will fast-track resource consenting and designation processes for eligible projects, and accelerate the beginning of work on a range of different sized and located projects. It will also support certainty of ongoing employment and investment across New Zealand.

“The bill also opens the way for other projects to be fast-tracked to help deliver faster economic growth and more jobs as soon as possible,” Environment Minister David Parker says. “Job-rich infrastructure and development projects of different sizes and in different locations around New Zealand will be prioritised.

“Extraordinary times sometimes require extraordinary measures. However, positive environmental outcomes will not be sacrificed at the expense of speed. While these projects are being advanced in time, environmental safeguards remain. Part 2 of the Resource Management Act (RMA), including the recognition of matters of national importance, will continue to apply,” adds Mr Parker. “Furthermore, the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and Treaty Settlement obligations apply to all projects under this bill.”

Three pathways to consent

The new bill allows for projects to proceed through a fast-track consenting process down three pathways.

On the first track are the 11 Government-led projects specified in the legislation and assessed as suitable for the fast-track process (see below). They range from roads to cycleways, rail upgrades, water storage and housing developments, and have the potential to provide an estimated 1250-plus jobs.

Once the bill passes, these projects will be referred directly to expert consenting panels, which will set appropriate conditions on the projects before they can proceed. Expert consenting panels will have similar powers to consenting authorities under the RMA.

The second track applies to applications from other public and private projects that will be considered by the Minister for the Environment before being forwarded to the panel. “We are looking forward to ideas from a range of people and organisations, including district and regional councils, iwi authorities, NGOs and the private sector,” Mr Parker says.

Applicants must provide information to the minister on how the project meets the criteria specified in the bill. Projects that qualify will be referred to panels for consideration through an Order in Council.

Notified applications for resource consents take on average around four to six months to process, depending on the complexity, significance and the level of contention involved. The new fast-track processes are likely to take 45 to 70 working days. Some transport projects will be able to start one to two years sooner under the fast-track measure, depending on conditions set by the panel.

Thirdly, there is an ability for Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and KiwiRail Holdings to undertake repair, maintenance and minor upgrade works on existing infrastructure in the road and rail corridor as a permitted activity, which means it would not require a resource consent, but is subject to certain standards. “Accelerating these projects will create opportunities for more employment and a boost to local economies,” Mr Parker says.

The fast-track law is a short-term intervention that will self-repeal in two years. “The current comprehensive review of the RMA, which I expect to release before the election, will set out proposals for long-term reform to fix the issues that have plagued the resource management system for many years,” Mr Parker says. “But until then, the RMA is still the main pathway for resource consenting for all other projects.”

A good start

The announcement of the bill has been welcomed by the EMA, describing it as “a good start” to aiding the country’s recovery post Covid-19 and will be particularly welcome in the Auckland region where a number of the projects are based.

“Some of these projects have been on the books in Auckland and elsewhere for a number of years, so finally getting them consented, especially on a fact-track, is a welcome development,” says EMA head of advocacy and strategy, Alan McDonald. “This is the Government using its powers in a way that clears regulatory hurdles and gets stuff done – just what we need at the moment.”

Several Auckland projects are linked to larger-scale transport initiatives that enable maximum use of existing public transport networks. “The Papakura to Pukekohe electrification project is critical to maximising capacity increases resulting from Auckland’s City Rail Link, especially when rapid housing development in the area is likely to significantly increase pressure on the roading network,” Mr McDonald says.

“Giving agencies such as KiwiRail and the Transport Agency the ability to self-consent on smaller maintenance projects is also a good initiative to clear hurdles and speed up delivery. However, this is yet another workaround for the problematic RMA, highlighting once again that the act is no longer fit for purpose and needs to be repealed to create new legislation that enables growth and protects the environment. The current act fails both those tests.”

Picton Ferry Precinct

Port Marlborough and KiwiRail have welcomed the inclusion of the Picton Ferry Precinct Redevelopment Project in the bill. Over the four-plus years it will take to redevelop the precinct, more than 200 full-time jobs are expected to be created in direct construction employment and 100 jobs in indirect employment throughout the supply chain.

Port Marlborough chief executive Rhys Welbourn fully supports the opportunity to consent the project as quickly and efficiently as possible, now that the project’s due diligence and consultation phases are complete. “Over recent weeks we’ve been aware that the Government was considering the terminal project for the fast-track process. To have the project specifically listed is great news for the project and for Marlborough.

“The most important point I can make is that this is a fast-track – not a shortcut – process. The project team have already completed a huge amount of due diligence around project options and design, and have sought and received substantial input from iwi, the council, specific interest groups and the general public – despite the challenges of consulting during the Covid-19 lockdown,” Mr Welbourn says.

The project involves the ferry terminal wharves, the Interislander terminal building and rail yards, pedestrian and traffic connections with the Picton CBD, and both local and national road networks. It is a partnership between Port Marlborough and KiwiRail alongside the Marlborough District Council and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency. Resource consent applications for the project are on track for lodgement mid-September.

KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller says the redevelopment is not only part of a project that will bring significant environmental benefits, but it also has an important role in job creation in the upper South Island. “KiwiRail is looking forward to working with Port Marlborough on the project. The Picton terminal building will incorporate sustainable building materials and use less energy. Our aim is to achieve a minimum of five stars in the Green Star sustainable building scheme. We’re pleased this legislation will help keep this important project on schedule.”

Listed projects

The Covid-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Bill lists the following 11 projects that can proceed straight to the panel stage of the process:

1. Ngauranga to Petone shared path (Te Ara Tupua), Wellington

2. Northern Pathway shared path – from Westhaven across the Auckland Harbour Bridge to Akoranga

3. Wellington Metro Upgrade – upgrade of the Wellington rail network

4. Britomart East Upgrade – upgrade of the eastern end of the Britomart station, including the Britomart tunnel

5. Papakura to Pukekohe project – electrification of the rail line between Papakura and Drury

6. Te Pa Tahuna project – new housing development in Queenstown

7. Unitec project – first stage of the Unitec residential development in Auckland

8. Picton Ferry Terminal Development

9. Papakainga Network Development – six separate Papakainga housing developments in Kaitaia, Auckland, Raglan, Taranaki, Chatham Islands and Christchurch

10. Papakura to Drury roading – upgrade of State Highway 1

11. Kopenui water storage facility, Kaikohe

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