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Six groups included on Bishop’s fast track list

Six organisations with a presence in Wairarapa are on the list of 187 entities that Infrastructure Minister Chris Bishop contacted by letter on April 3, informing them of the process for getting major development projects included in the Fast Track Approvals Bill.

The bill was introduced to Parliament on March 7 and is now being considered by the Environment Select Committee.

It is designed to speed up the delivery of infrastructure and development projects with significant regional or national benefits by creating a ‘one-stop-shop’ for approvals under several regulatory regimes.

However, it has been criticised for the decision-making power it invests in ministers and its lack of environmental protections.

The stakeholder list was released by Bishop on April 19 – just hours before public submissions on the Bill closed –following receipt of several Official Information Act [OIA] requests to do so.

Wairarapa stakeholders include Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa – Tāmaki Nui ā Rua Settlement Trust, Rangitane Tū Mai Rā Trust, and four commercial organisations with projects at various stages of the planning and development pipeline.

These are Far North Solar Farms [FNSF], which initially lodged a resource consent application to South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] for a 235ha solar farm on Bidwells Cutting Rd in Greytown, and which is now to be heard by the Environment Court in July; Irrigation NZ, which is promoting fast-track approval for four large-scale water storage projects across New Zealand, including one in Wairarapa; Meridian Energy, which is pursuing consents for the Mount Munro wind farm; and Summerset Group, which is in the early planning stages for its Cashmere Oaks retirement village in Masterton. Each of these commercial entities has confirmed to the Times-Age that they received Bishop’s letter.

None, except Irrigation NZ, have indicated they will use the fast-track process for Wairarapa projects if the bill passes.

FNSF’s Greg Hay stated he had neither submitted on the Bill nor planned on proposing the Greytown solar farm project for the fast-track list.

He told Times-Age he supports the “government’s objective of reducing consenting costs and timeframes to enable large-scale projects of national or regional significance, such as solar farms, to go ahead.”

“Without new renewable energy generation, the country will not meet its emissions reductions targets.”

Similarly, Meridian is not proposing to use the fast-track process in respect of the Mount Munro project, opting to continue with the current Environment Court process.

“Our application to the Environment Court is likely to have a hearing in September this year, it is a process where all parties will be able to make their case,” Guy Waipara, Meridian’s general manager for development, said.

“It is designed to allow for public participation while avoiding the requirement of having two hearings for everyone involved when an application is heard by the council and then appealed to the Environment Court. We believe this is the best way forward for a project that offers tremendous benefits to the local community and wider region, as it does to the electricity system and New Zealand economy.”

Summerset also confirmed it will continue to use “existing legislation” to progress its Cashmere Oaks Village project, while it “broadly supports [the bill] but considers aspects of the Bill can be refined and improved”, a spokesperson said.

Irrigation NZ included the Wairarapa Community Water Storage Project in Annex 1 of its submission on the bill – Inclusion of Irrigation Infrastructure Projects in Schedule 2 of the Bill.

Schedule 2 will list the projects that can use the fast-track approvals process. In the online version of the bill, Schedule 2 is currently unpopulated.

Irrigation NZ’s submission annex describes the Wairarapa project as being “at a later stage of development” than the Tukituki Water Security Project, the Manuherikia and Falls Dam Project, and the Klondyke Water Storage Project, “but worthy of consideration for a subsequent phase”.

“The project aims to address water scarcity issues in the Wairarapa region through the construction of water storage infrastructure. This project has wide community support for enabling sustainable land use practices, enhancing environmental sustainability, and promoting economic development in the region,” the submission said.

In an email to the Times-Age, Irrigation NZ chief executive Vanessa Winning said, “At this stage, we think it’s probably too early in their process given the original plan is being reviewed with the regional council and district councils. That doesn’t mean they won’t possibly ask later as part of the ongoing application process, but I can’t see it being ready at this stage for being listed in the legislation now that they are reviewing it.”

In its submission, Irrigation NZ said it “endorses the Fast-track Approvals Bill in principle, recognising the urgent need for a streamlined consenting process for critical infrastructure projects”, but regards “maintaining appropriate community and iwi engagement in the Fast Track process” as an “imperative”.

Labour list MP Kieran McAnulty told the Times-Age that he considered the bill “dangerous and anti-democratic”.

“It flies in the face of long-standing conventions in New Zealand that allow communities to have their views taken into account when considering projects.”

“Wairarapa has had a gut’s full of their views being disregarded after the SH2 80km/h debacle, and this bill sets things up for a repeat,” he said.

A “long-time supporter of water storage in Wairarapa”, McAnulty said, “it is important that any project, regardless of how important it is, follows a process that allows for community views to be heard and properly considered”.

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