Greens vote against Government legislation to fast-track resource consents during COVID-19 slump

The Green Party has voted against Government legislation to fast-track resource consents during the COVID-19 economic slump - but it passed with support from the National Party. 

The passing of the COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting Bill) will allow infrastructure projects to largely bypass the Resource Management Act (RMA) and instead be referred to expert panels that will set the conditions for approval. 

The new law will have a 'sunset clause', meaning it will be repealed two years from enactment. But the Greens are concerned that it reduces public participation and narrows environmental considerations. 

Green Party co-leader James Shaw said the legislation was put forward with good intent, and the Greens have "worked constructively throughout" to improve it, but in the end the party could not support it.

"The Bill aims to fast-track some large scale projects, but sacrifices public input, council decision making, and a thorough consideration of the environmental impacts," Shaw said after the legislation passed on Thursday evening. 

"Public participation provides decision-makers with more information and enables communities to participate in decisions which affect their neighbourhoods and places they care about. We didn't feel this Bill quite achieved that."

National's environment spokesperson Erica Stanford suggested in Parliament the legislation highlighted unease between the Greens and New Zealand First. 

"I would say it's one of those Bills that exemplify the very uncomfortable relationship between New Zealand First and the Greens."

The Government announced last month the initial fast-tracked infrastructure projects earmarked for approval under the new system, and one of them is a water storage facility in Kaikohe - a project Stanford said the Greens opposed. 

She said New Zealand First "knew that they didn't have the numbers on that side to get this through and it was the National Party that came to the rescue for Kaikohe and for the people of Northland".

New Zealand First MP Ron Mark said it will be "interesting to see" what happens with the latest changes to the RMA after the sunset clause. 

"I'd like to think that at that time the changes that we're making in this legislation might be considered more widely."

Green MP and Conservation Minister Eugenie opposed suggestions that the legislation should be permanent because there is "significant constraint on local participation" and decision-making by councils. 

"Decisions under the Bill are made by the expert consenting panel within 25 to 50 days, rather than by councils elected to represent their communities. So access to justice is constrained, too, with the inability to appeal beyond the Court of Appeal."

Sage said the Greens "strengthened" the legislation during the review stage, by giving more scope to Environment Minister David Parker to decline projects for fast-track status. 

Parker can consider the environmental outcomes, whether it minimises waste and contributes to New Zealand's efforts to mitigate climate change and transition more quickly to a low-emissions economy.

Parker initially announced 11 fast-tracked projects but there are now 12 after the Queenstown Arterials Project was added - a new urban route through Queenstown, including road, cycleways and walkways.

He said the initial fast-tracked projects will create an estimated 1700 jobs.

Parker is currently undergoing a review of the RMA and says he will release it before the September election. He will "set out proposals for long term reform to fix the issues that have plagued the resource management system for many years". 

The initial fast-tracked projects are listed here