On Monday the government announced they’ve created a new fast track consenting process to speed up consenting for 11 projects around the county with six of them in Auckland. The new process is expected to reduce the time to consent these projects to as little as 45 days.
“The specific projects are listed in the COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track) Bill that will be introduced In the House later this week. 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 said.
“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 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 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. 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.
They say each of these Expert Consenting Panels will be chaired by a sitting or retired Environment Court Judge, or senior RMA lawyer and panels will have three to four members including “nominees from relevant local authorities and local iwi authorities“.
Current consenting processes can take four to six months but big projects like road and rail upgrades can often then spend years dealing with appeals. In an interview on Radio NZ yesterday, Parker said one of the ways this will be faster is that individual members of the public won’t be able to participate in the submissions process but that industry, infrastructure and environmental groups along with iwi will be able to make written submissions.
The previous government looked to speed things up by creating the Board of Inquiry process, which sounds somewhat similar to these Expert Consenting Panels. The BOI process limited appeals with the aim of having the entire end to end process completed within nine months. A side effect of this is it also meant that those seeking consent needed to do much more work upfront to make sure all their I’s were dotted and T’s crossed because if the application failed, like happened with the Basin Reserve flyover, they would only have limited ability to challenge that. I recall it was for this reason that AT at the time decided not to use the process for the City Rail Link.
It’s unclear if appeals will be allowed on these special consents but possibly not given the government say that this process will mean that some transport projects will be able to start one to two years sooner than they would have.
In addition, the new bill will give some additional powers to Waka Kotahi and Kiwirail
Thirdly there is an ability for Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, and KiwiRail Holdings Ltd 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.
The 11 projects all have funding already approved so these are separate to the ‘shovel ready‘ projects the government are considering. I can imagine that once those are announced, some of them may also use this process.
The projects are below along with some commentary on a few of them. One thing I do notice is that for many of the projects the number of jobs they’re meant to generate seems to be very low.
- 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.
- Unitec – Phase 1 – high density housing on the Unitec site in Auckland, 250 jobs.
I covered this yesterday and I can see why they’d want to use it as I imagine there’d be plenty of locals who’d look to object and hold the development up. Although this is only for Phase 1.
- 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.
- 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.
- Britomart East Upgrade – upgrades to Britomart station to ensure the City Rail Link project can operate at full capacity once services commence. 30 jobs.
As I understand it, the main change for this is to realign the tracks to improve access to/from platforms 1 and 5 given those will be the predominant movements post CRL. There is also a desire to improve access to the eastern end of the station, such as with more escalators and possibly dropping the station to four platforms so that platforms 1 and 5 can be larger. However, I also understand that just what will be done is subject to how much of the limited budget for wider network improvements is available to use as it also needs to cover other changes, such as the works at Otahuhu and possibly Henderson.
- 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.
It’s good to see this one happening but odd that the third main works aren’t included too – unless they already have consent. The project has seen a bit of attention recently as Kiwirail are already advanced in their tendering for the project and Fletchers appearing to use the media to relitigate a tender they’ve lost. They’re trying to tug on nationalistic strings by saying the project should go to them as a New Zealand company, even though only about 22% of shares are owned by Kiwi’s with the rest owned offshore.
Regardless of who wins it, they’ll almost certainly be getting some equipment and maybe specialist personnel from overseas but the vast majority of those working on the project will need to be locals to do the physical work.
This project is one of the ones where it seems the number of jobs that will be generated is far too low. For example in response to the article above, Kiwirail have said it will employ about 220 people with only 15 of those being from off-shore. That’s about 2.5 times what is mentioned above.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Of all the projects that are on the list, Skypath seems to have garnered the most attention with some once again trying to re-litigate the need for the project. Like with Electrification above, Waka Kotahi are already well into the tender process, short-listing two teams of companies back in February.
What will be interesting to see is how the debate with locals plays out as the NZTA want to acquire the remaining few houses on the Eastern side of the bridge and those home owners were already gearing up to fight it.
- 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.
Like the just completed Manukau to Papakura section, this will continue the motorway widening to Drury with a later stage continuing that to Bombay.
- 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.
Assuming the bill passes, it will be interesting to see how this impacts on the development of these projects and what else the process gets used for.