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Rapid Reforms: New fast-track regime under scrutiny for environmental impact

The Government is actively engaging with various iwi and hapū across the motu, discussing the repeal of the resource management reforms and the development of new legislation aimed at accelerating the resource consent process.

The Hon. Chris Bishop, the newly appointed Minister in charge of resource management, has introduced the concept of a "one-stop shop" for fast-track consent applications within the changes to the resource management legislation.  The legislation is scheduled to be presented to Parliament as a Bill by 8 March 2024.

With the Natural and Built Environments Act 2023 (NBA) repealed, the new legislation is expected to retain elements of the resource management reforms, specifically the fast-track consenting process.  The current process streamlines industry-specific projects through a two-step application and assessment process overseen by the Environmental Protection Authority (the Authority).

The new government has indicated a significant shift within the new fast-track regime with a focus on economic development, adding a wide array of industries such as mining and aquaculture to the fast-track criteria.  However, criticisms have emerged, including concerns about potential neglect of environmental and social considerations, the subjective nature of project referrals from Ministers, and possible impacts on environmental protection measures.

While the Government has expressed a commitment to upholding Treaty settlements through development of the new scheme, challenges for iwi and hapū include ensuring meaningful participation in the process, particularly in areas that are subject to Statutory Acknowledgment Areas (SAAs) as set out in their respective settlement legislation.

Key considerations arising from these discussions include:

  • Public Participation Concerns: There are concerns about reduced public participation in decision-making, prompting a need for legislative pathways to guide decision-makers in assessing cultural effects on iwi and hapū.
  • Stakeholder Engagement: Stakeholder input is more limited in the fast-track process, for example the expert panel can choose to opt out of a hearing, which has been common practice.  Additionally, applications under the previous legislation required a cultural impact assessment from the relevant iwi authority, leading to potential issues in identifying the appropriate authority.  It is also unclear whether this requirement will be carried over into the new fast-track scheme.
  • Lack of Clarity: It is important to note the requirement for clear criteria regarding the panels' ability to reject applications referred from Ministers, particularly when it comes to projects that could have significant impacts on the environment and cultural values.

In summary, iwi and hapū should be cautious regarding the imminent introduction of the new fast-track regime to Parliament.  Concerns revolve around reduced public participation and the potential for political interference.

Provisions for SAAs and clear legislative pathways for iwi and hapū engagement are crucial to addressing potential cultural and environmental impacts, ensuring a fair and comprehensive assessment of fast-track consent applications that align with established Treaty settlement commitments.

If you’re interested to learn more about the new regime, the Government has released more detailed comments that you can access in the following link.  Should you have any questions on these developments or on other resource management matters, don't hesitate to reach out to one of our resource management experts.

Tipene is a Senior Solicitor in our Kahurangi Team and can be contacted on 07 958 7430.

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