The Government has selected the first 11 infrastructure projects to go through a streamlined consenting process initiated in response to COVID-19.
High-density housing at the Unitec site in Auckland and at Te Pa Tahuna in Queenstown, an upgrade to State Highway 1 between Papakura and Drury, and a water storage facility in Kaikohe are among the projects selected.
The fast-tracking can occur under the COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track) Bill, which will be introduced to Parliament later this week.
Being a short-term intervention aimed at creating jobs, it will self-repeal in two years’ time.
The 11 projects will be referred to ‘expert consenting panels’, which will set conditions on projects before they can proceed.
The panels will have similar powers to consenting authorities under the Resource Management Act (RMA).
Each panel will be chaired by a sitting or retired Environment Court Judge, or senior RMA lawyer. Panels will have three to four members and include nominees from relevant local authorities and local iwi authorities.
Environment Minister David Parker couldn't say how many panels would be set up, but said there would be fewer than 10.
A 'substantial number' of additional projects to go through streamlined process
The Bill allows for projects to proceed through two other pathways.
Government organisations, local councils, iwi, NGOs or those in the private sector will be able to lodge applications with the Environment Minister, who will refer projects that meet the criteria set out in the Bill to panels for consideration through an Order in Council.
Parker said these projects would need to be “job rich” and funded.
He expected a “substantial number” of projects to go through this pathway.
He said these would include projects the Government decides to fund further to recommendations made by a group of infrastructure industry leaders, headed by Crown Infrastructure Partners chairman Mark Binns.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said ministers were still working through a list given to them by the Infrastructure Industry Reference Group at the end of May, which includes hundreds of projects.
Of the projects selected for funding, Parker expected a “significant proportion” to go through the streamlined consenting process.
An additional $3 billion was allocated towards infrastructure in the 2020 Budget. This came on top of the $12 billion Upgrade Programme (some of which is yet to be allocated), announced in January.
Exemptions for KiwiRail and NZTA
Finally, the Bill will enable the NZ Transport Agency and KiwiRail to do some repair work, maintenance and minor upgrades to existing road and rail infrastructure without consent, provided they meet certain standards.
On average, notified applications for resource consents take four to six months to process. Parker expected the fast track processes to take between 45 to 70 working days.
He maintained some transport projects would be able to start a year or two sooner, depending on conditions set by the panel.
Environmental and Treaty safeguards remain
Parker said: "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 including the recognition of matters of national importance, will continue to apply.
“Furthermore, the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, and Treaty Settlement obligations apply to all projects under this Bill...
“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.
“But until then, the RMA is still the main pathway for resource consenting for all other projects.”
The 11 initial fast-tracked projects named in the Bill are:
1) Kaikohe water storage facility – to provide water for agricultural and horticultural use and drinking water in Kaikohe. This project is expected to provide 70 jobs.
2) Unitec – Phase 1 – high density housing on the Unitec site in Auckland, 250 jobs.
3) Te Pa Tahuna – Phase 1 – up to 180 residential units and retail space on an old school site in Queenstown - part of a wider development that aims to provide up to 300 high density dwellings. Up to 100 jobs.
4) Papakāinga Network Development – the delivery of Papakainga across six sites; in Kaitaia, Pt Chevalier, Raglan, Waitara, Chatham Islands and Christchurch. This project will support the Government to provide up to 120 dwellings. It is being delivered by Māori developers with support from Te Puni Kōkiri. Will help retain and expand the existing workforce.
5) Britomart East Upgrade – upgrades to Britomart station to ensure the City Rail Link project can operate at full capacity once services commence. 30 jobs.
6) Papakura to Pukekohe electrification – electrification of rail from Papakura to Pukekohe and the construction of three rail platforms. This project aims to extend Auckland metro services south to Pukekohe providing South Auckland with increased lower emissions transport choice. This project is expected to create 85 jobs.
7) Wellington Metro Upgrade programme – suite of smaller projects aimed at increasing the passenger and freight capacity of trains between Masterton, Levin and Wellington. Works will involve upgrading drainage, new tracks, upgrading stations, new storage yards, and the establishment and operation of a gravel extraction site. This project is expected to create 90 jobs.
8) Picton Ferry Dock and Terminal upgrade – The project will improve rail services by expanding the docks and upgrading the passenger terminal. This project is expected to create 200 jobs. KiwiRail notes that the design of the new terminal takes into account 100 years of projected sea level rise.
9) Northern Pathway – a cycleway and walkway between Westhaven and Akoranga in Auckland. This project aims to create a safe and useable active transport corridor for the North Shore and aims to increase the number of people cycling for commuting and recreation. Number of jobs expected to be 50.
10) Papakura to Drury SH1 roading upgrade – upgrades to SH1 to improve its capacity, as well as constructing new walking and cycling facilities to improve highway access and safety. This project aims to respond to population growth and provide transport options for people in South Auckland. Up to 350 jobs.
11) Te Ara Tūpuna – a cycleway and walkway between Petone and Ngauranga in Wellington. This project will improve the safety and usability of an existing cycleway and aims to increase the number of people cycling for commuting, recreation and tourism. This project is expected to create between 30 and 40 jobs and is an opportunity to strengthen existing sea walls and structures to make it more resilient to sea level rise and increased storm events.