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.

  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.

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.

  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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

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  1. The Skypath was shaping up to be a particularly vicious little culture war skirmish, I bet the government is delighted it can roll the entitled residents of Northcote from behind the Covid-19 smokescreen.

    1. Hardly. It doesn’t include PWA so they will still spend years in court with the affected property owners.

    2. Why can’t they just build it on the other side, no houses need to be demolished, problem solved. Also why would you call the resident entitled? Is it jealousy?

  2. I feel like Skypath is still something I support in principle, but I’m not sure it’s good value anymore. Seems like that $240m could have mitigated half what the Council has had to slash from its budget from across the entire city as part of its Covid19 response. Yet we’re about to spend that connecting one well-off bit to another well-off bit.

    1. The cost does seem to have spiraled well and truly out of control but I find that ‘rich suburb to rich suburb’ connection a total cop out.

      It’s a connection from one side of the harbour to the other, and hopefully the first but most important step of any further bike paths to funnel in those in suburbs not too far away.

      As for the council slashing costs, I’m sure there is so much fat in that organisation that with a bit of pragmatism you could probably get double what the sky path is costing and end up with services that are just as good. Lets start with some on the consultants they use from the big 4 in there for years on end at $2000-$3000/day.

    2. Of course there’s a cheaper way to do it: reallocate lanes to walking and cycling, with some great big barriers between them and traffic. And if the government had had any sense they would’ve done it right at the start of Level 1 when traffic was so low.

      If they wanted public support for the work they’re doing now, allowing people to experience how great the connection is would’ve achieved this.

      Or maybe the public would have said, this is great – why would you spend so much on a new design when this is adequate?

      Lost opportunity, but only one of many.

    3. Taxpayers money is no object for the Labour Party as evidenced by a $572,000 playground at Parliament with a slide costing $242,000.

  3. Northcote residents were resigned to losing their homes but are now really pissy about the way NZTA has managed the process. Effectively held a series of consultation meetings at which they were told houses would not be going and then hit them with this. Now they have valued the affected properties at or below GV citing the proximity to the Bridge as a major reason for the low valuation. Complete and utter BS as obviously the bridge and its impact has been apparent for every GV since 1959.
    I’m in favour of the concept but it does smack now of a vanity project with the legislation being applied solely to remove the residents right to appeal despite it creating very few jobs.

  4. This government needs more than a streamlined/speed up consenting process to build things. I would happily wager that none of these projects happen anytime soon!

    What we might get is some reports on the merits of these projects and some discussions with PPP partners and other such nonsense.

  5. I wonder what create jobs means in this context or part of the process. I wonder if it means new jobs. Otherwise a number of projects seem very low. With all these jobs lawyers, engineers, planners will be involved. Plus there is the project managers and quality surveyors, surveyors. Then there is people involved in supply materials and back room support staff. Finally there are the people involved in building the piece of infrastructure… including in some cases traffic management staff plus mechanics servicing equipment. I can see just two of these projects SH1 and electrification of main truck employing over 1200 people during life of the project.

    1. Usually when politicians say infrastructure projects create jobs they try and include every single person in the supply chain, even though most of those would have still had jobs regardless, just on different projects. This ends up with greatly inflated ‘jobs created’ numbers that are utterly meaningless. It’s good to see them publicising much more conservative estimates that might be realistic.

  6. The projects announced aren’t controversial and most of them were already on the way to being delivered. However the real potential for this legislation (that has a 2 year lifetime) is what happens after the election.

    On current polling then Labour won’t need to rely on NZ First’s support to form the next government. They’ll then have relatively free reign on what projects to fund and this accelerated process to get them consented faster.

    I doubt Labour would be bold enough to use this for the whole C2M LRT project but they could use it for a lot of smaller projects or projects likely to attract less public controversy (NW LRT? Regional Rapid Rail?). There’s lot of potential.

    1. I know I might sound like a broken record; but I maintain that the C2M LRT is not going to happen and that Labour isn’t really committed to it (beyond milking it for possible votes).

      As for regional rail, even not making it “rapid” would take some investment and works. I support it in principle (and think it could be a great eventual success), but I just have a bad feeling that it’s going to be botched. First of all: There needs to be changes within Kiwirail itself and its goals and how it’s funded.
      I think a lot of people have no appreciation of just how lacking NZ’s current infrastructure is in providing such services and think that because the line it there and stations are there and carriages & locomotive exist that trains can just be run willy nilly. They don’t appreciate scheduling and allocating staff and having maintained facilitiies, etc.

      1. I think Labour are committed to LRT, just they have no idea about how to execute it effectively. However from the outside it’s hard to tell which explanation is correct.

        The advantage with regional rail is that it only requires incremental improvements to get going, which are much easier (politically, financially etc.) to do. There’s no need for large scale property acquisition or anything that’d take a long time to do.

        Totally agree on the failings of our current infrastructure. The institutions tasked with looking after it have been hollowed out by neo-liberal reforms and decades of under-funding. They (Kiwirail, NZTA, Chorus, power utilities, water utilities etc.) now don’t even have the capacity to run proper maintenance regimes, let alone effectively administer capital works programs. Much of NZ’s infrastructure could be best described as in a state of managed decline.

        1. “I think Labour are committed to LRT, just they have no idea about how to execute it effectively”
          Well, we’re going to have to disagree on that. All you’ve ever got were some vague promises from one Labour MP (Phil Twyford) and some completely absurd light metro plan (which I wouldn’t be surprised if was deliberately absurd as a means to scrap it).

          “The advantage with regional rail is that it only requires incremental improvements to get going, which are much easier (politically, financially etc.) to do. There’s no need for large scale property acquisition or anything that’d take a long time to do.”
          Yes, it’s true that Kiwirail still owns the land (except for the former site of the Rotorua station). But to get even a successful Hamilton-Auckland commuter service running would need a kickstart investment. Most of the patronage that would cement the service’s initial viability will come from the very north of the Waikato Such as Tuakau and Pokeno and Mercer and they need to have stations re-established. It’s doubtful that services to Tauranga can be squeezed into the Kaimai tunnel with current traffic levels (although the plans for Marsden point B could alleviate that). Huntly needs its old station back (the replacement station is simply borderline unusable) and that will be expensive given the traffic corridor adjacent. Even Ngaruawahia would need millions spent on its current platforms.
          And there’s still the issue of structures. These services need to use Kiwirail diesel locomotives & drivers and Kiwirail charges for that (as they rightly have a freight focus). There needs to be a fundamental change to Kiwirail’s business model.
          It would be something in the same order of magnitude as bringing Auckland’s suburban trains to where they are now from where they were 20 years ago.

  7. I’d like to know more about the Britomart east upgrade and its entire details.
    I feel that eastern entrance could be a lot larger, have a lobby under Britomart place and Beach road, and have entrance portals on the other side of Beach road.

    1. What gets me is that they are removing the platform that the Northern explorer use to use . Why as one day when the electrification on the NIMT is finally completed it then again will be required . And if it is removed will they reinstate it ? or will they quibile over the cost .

      1. Which platform are you talking about David? Once CRL opens there will be two, possibly three dead-end platforms that will rarely by used by metro trains. If the Northern Explorer was electric it could use one of these.

        If we’ve reached the stage of electrifying between Pukekohe and Hamilton though, then I suspect these platforms will be taken up by Auckland- Hamilton services.

        1. The platform is I think platform 3 which is the widest in the station and has a glass barrier down one side of it .

        2. David, they are going for five tracks with three narrow platforms to four tracks with two wide platforms, so they have enough space for the passengers.

          With the CRL, all suburban trains will use the current track 1 and 5 only, as those are the only ones that run through to the CRL. Track 2 and 4 will be ‘spare’ and still available for any other trains they might want to terminate at Britomart (but not the Northern Explorer as diesels are now banned from the underground stations). No need to have a third spare track and platform.

          Platform 3 is the narrowest in the station by the way.

        3. As Ricardo says, only platforms 1 & 5 will be used for metro services. It is possible platforms 2-4 may be used to terminate some additional peak only services or for use by special events trains but the best use would be for services to Hamilton and beyond.

          We know the platforms right now can handle 6 trains an hour in and 6 trains per hour out so that’s potentially 24 trains an hour that could head out of the city (if the rest of the network could handle that on top of Metro services). If we got to the point of having a train to/from Hamilton or beyond even every half hour that would be a significant victory from where things are right now.

          Personally I’m more interested in the best way of setting that up, is to just have those two terminating tracks side by side and sharing platform 1/5 with metro passengers or is it to have those platforms off a separate island. I imagine probably the former.

        4. I thought they wanted to get rid of the third middle platform and just have two wide islands, to give plenty of room for escalators and lifts and stuff?

        5. I think it’s great news this gets done. Definitely they should reduce the platform numbers to four and make the retained platforms wider. I’m pretty sure I also saw during CRL public engagement that they are looking to remove the 3rd, centre platform.

          The platforms are so narrow compared to overseas, and with the large growth of numbers using Britomart since its opening, I am actually surprised there hasn’t been an incident of someone falling onto the tracks yet. IMHO the platform widening is sorely needed.

          It’s also a concern of mine regarding the new CRL Station platforms. They look rather narrow in the renderings (yes, ok, renderings are just renderings but).

          I also agree that I hope they redesign the Eastern entranceway to make it far more appealing than it is currently. There should be seating and maybe some retail. It feels so dingy compared to the western end. I had thought about adding an airline check-in terminal there like I used once in KL a decade ago but I think online check-in has probably removed the need for that anyway.

  8. This is what they call the ‘rule of law’, a term thought up by some public relations expert back in the middle ages. Essentially it means the same law applies to everyone except if the government doesn’t like the result they get they can change the law to suit them selves.

    1. Yes. I wonder if a different approach they could’ve taken was to return to the idea of planning NZ’s needs as a whole. They could filter out projects that cause environmental damage or are socially regressive at the planning stage. Ideally the government (local and central) and any organisation that has a big influence on the public and the public realm would only attempt projects that meet our long term goals. They could then streamline the consenting process for all projects that originated in this master planning as being just a check that there weren’t major local issues overlooked, not as an opportunity for people with the money to overrule the planning for the greater good.

      What they’re doing seems to be a bandaid over a bandage, instead.

      1. The process you’re describing sounds like what the NZ Infrastructure Commission is meant to do. It’ll take them a while before they can do this effectively though since they’ve had to start from scratch.

        The old Ministry of Works used to do this and that’s what most people mean when they call for a reformation of the MoW: It’s the lack of long-term planning that the country is missing.

        1. The old Ministry of Works destroyed thousands of houses and entire suburbs building motorways. Even graveyards were fair game.

      2. Yes. We now have a system where if you want to open a child care centre or a cafe then you need to commission expensive reports and maybe go through a full notification process but if you are building something worth hundreds of millions of dollars that requires people’s homes are taken from them and knocked down you can use a fast-track system with bugger all assessment or community input.

        1. You do have to commission expensive reports, but you can avoid the full notification in most council districts, arguing less than minor affect.
          I do agree with you however, it’s a bit messed up.

  9. I know it’s not officially on the plans, but has any steps been taken to reserve a rail corridor up to and through the Bombay’s for a future realignment as per RRR? Should really be in place so that it doesn’t cost a fortune later with houses etc in the way.

    1. No it has not been reserved and will not be.

      The indicated RRR route was not suitable for freight due to the gradient, was not fully costed and ran right through Stevensons Drury Crossing development (including the residential area), details of which were in the public domain at the time.

      1. You realise half of it was a tunnel right, and had a 3% max grade. I guess you didn’t read the report…

        Wait, you saying a volunteer group didn’t spend ten million dollars to fully cost a multi billion dollar national infrastructure project?! What an outrage!

        1. 3% is still quite steep for freight, I thought it was under 2%( 1:50) with the tunnel? After all the land on either side of the Bombay’s is relatively flat before rising steeply (where the tunnel would go).

  10. It is heartening that Government seems to have taken some good advice on improving the process. An early paper set out three pathways for approving projects, the first 2 of which were just plain dumb – i.e. that approval of some projects would be automatically “deemed” approved as part of the legislation or that they could be signed off by the Minister. Only the third path included any form of expert advice to the decision maker. What most commentators do not acknowledge is that almost all (98.5% in Auckland) of applications are approved – so the real issue is getting the conditions of consent right. On larger projects there are hundreds of conditions running to dozens of pages. At least now there will be a (hopefully independent) panel for all projects – each one tailor made for the project under consideration and chaired by an Environment Court judge.

  11. I think this is a good move by the government.

    Interesting the resources a motorway project involves. The Unitec project is 250 new jobs but the Papakura to Bombay SH1 project is 350.

  12. The third main shouldn’t need consent because it is entirely within the rail corridor, including the bit north or Beach Rd in Puhinui where there are big earthworks to cut back the bank on the up side.

  13. “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”

    could they not have included Councils in this? It might have meant we could avoid the ridiculous current situation where putting in a zebra crossing, adding a bike rack, adding a speed bump or removing a single parking space, requires a full consultation processes

    1. Well, good question, Peter.

      On Council land that’s not in the road corridor, there’s already no formal consultation required, it seems, even for projects that are much more than ‘maintenance and minor upgrade works’. They can add car parking without having to consult; even huge amounts that will create huge impacts on the network, especially for vulnerable road users. Eg Motat’s new carpark.

      In the road corridor, which is Council land managed by AT, it also seems that formal consultation isn’t required as long as it serves car dependency (I won’t say it serves drivers, as it often doesn’t). Eg Redoubt Rd dynamic lanes.

      For more minor maintenance and minor upgrade works, again, it depends on who it is serving.

      It’s ok to remove bike stands without consultation. But to reinstall them in the same or a similar location, all of a sudden public engagement and trials and consultation is required. Eg at the shoppers’ carpark in Pt Chevalier.

      But the removal of one carpark anywhere seems to flag the need for formal consultation. Eg https://www.greaterauckland.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Unbalanced-Consultation-Requirements.pdf

      It’s pretty clear to me that it has nothing to do with the legislation but to do with the bias of Council and AT, and a whole lot of mythology.

  14. The Britomart East project is definitely needed. Quicker approached for CRL trains, and still two bays for other services / resilience.

    At least the third main and Puke wires/platforms all support regional services for the future. I think the pilot will be slow and painful, but times have changed and folks mayb. be more amenable.

    Plus the connecting journeys via Puhinui (Airport and Manukau) add new purpose which wasn’t there last time. Not to mention growth through Drury etc – and presumably some local traffic (schools/uni, public sector workers).

    What are the platform plans for Papakura and Puke?

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