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Regulation still requires thought

Proposed changes to resource management laws – including establishing a new fast-track process – have generated wide concern on whether deliberation will be traded for speed when it comes to granting consents.

Minister for the Resource Management Act reform Chris Bishop said the current “overly-restrictive RMA” has meant New Zealanders have had to wait too long for infrastructure projects.

“Today, we have taken the first steps in cutting through this mess of red tape, so we can supercharge New Zealand’s infrastructure and economic potential,” Bishop said this month.

It’s a classic feud between economic prosperity and kaitiakitanga [guardianship over the environment].

Wairarapa has multiple projects in various stages of the resource consent pipeline, including a solar farm in Carterton being processed through the since repealed covid-19 fast-track consenting act with the Environmental Protection Authority.

Over the past eight years, residents in Greytown have been privy to a long resource consent hustle from Woolworths attempting to build a new accessway for its FreshChoice supermarket.

The decision for an accessway taking eight years [and counting] arguably serves as an example of why the Government wants to introduce a quicker system.

However, those in Greytown who were involved with the FreshChoice consent debacle might argue that every point discussed in the past eight years [and counting] was necessary and legitimate.

The new regime pitched by the Government includes a process for projects to be referred to an expert panel, which “will have only a limited ability to decline a project once referred”.

This begs the question, how will the work surrounding said projects – and their impact on surrounding environments – be reduced?

The thought that larger projects and developments will receive bulldozed approval in the name of convenience and efficiency is anxiety-inducing.

After a solid hour spent exploring online, I haven’t managed to find any environmental outfits which have shared anything remotely positive about the legislation, nicknamed the “one-stop shop”.

The Environmental Defence Society [EDS] has slammed it, with chief executive Gary Taylor calling it a “war on our natural world”.

“It has the potential for environmentally destructive projects to proceed at haste, with minimal environmental assessment, transparency and public involvement.”

Bishop has argued that, because the legislation was born while Labour was still in Government, there should be no grounds for criticism from the [now] opposition.

But Labour’s environmental spokesperson Rachel Brooking has rejected this notion, calling the new iteration of the proposal “Muldoonist”, referring to the 1979 National Development Act allowing Cabinet to consent to major projects without consultation.

“As I understand it, the Minister makes the decision that consent will be granted, whereas, under Labour’s fast track, the Minister made the decision that a panel would decide whether consent would be granted,” she said.

“This raises concerns about influence on ministers and what the environmental impacts would be.”

In a world where so much of life now hinges on speed and instant gratification, it’s unsurprising that faster regulation is being argued as a good thing.

However, allowing rapid consent to be granted sets a clear precedent, as said by Forest and Bird’s group manager for conservation advocacy Richard Capie.

“The Minister has been very clear – commercial interests come before other values, whether they are ecological values, water quality, the biodiversity of an area or the carbon sequestration value of an area.”

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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