Fast-track consents necessary for covid-19 recovery

May 04, 2020

Fast-tracking resource consents for critical infrastructure and development projects is a pragmatic and welcome government response to assisting the Covid 19 recovery process says Resource Reform NZ* (RRNZ), a coalition of business and environmental interests.

The Minister for the Environment David Parker has today announced fast-track amendments to the Resource Management Act to better enable economic recovery from Covid-19. The temporary amendments to the Act will be made in June.

RRNZ supports key elements in the proposed amendment bill which include rapid approvals for selected public and private sector projects and a commitment to retain environmental bottom lines. Often lengthy public consultation processes will also be put on temporary hold while the amendments place Central Government requirements for the economic rebuild as a main driver for consents.

RRNZ says the Minister’s announcement recognises the need to remove some of the structural issues in the RMA, that the Group identified in its work programme since 2016, which have proved incompatible to the need to provide a faster infrastructure response to accommodate previous rapid growth.

“They are the same issues that would prevent a rapid start to the Government’s programme to accelerate shovel-ready and other infrastructure projects as it seeks to ramp up activity and employment in the infrastructure sector post Covid 19,” the RRNZ Group says.=

Under the proposed amendments selected public or private projects will go through a bespoke approvals process with the Minister acting as gatekeeper. The RRNZ group says it looks forward to seeing the criteria he must apply as these will be critical to ensure projects are transformational, provide the necessary high levels of employment and meet longer term strategies and goals for infrastructure provision in New Zealand – three waters projects are one example.

The commitment to retain environmental bottom lines is also critical as many environmental indicators are trending downwards. We want an economic recovery that improves the environment.

Local government also has a key role to play in supporting these changes, maximising the infrastructure opportunities in their areas and ensuring those longer term environmental and social goals are met.

The Randerson Review highlighted risks, costs and lack of financial incentives for local and regional projects. Councils face a 10-25% drop in revenues as a result of COVID-19, limited ability to increase rates and growth councils are capped on ability to borrow. For local and regional councils and the private sector to stimulate the economy and address environmental (including climate change) challenges, emergency changes to resource management system barriers at the local level will also be required.

RRNZ says it’s important that the short-term measures – the amendments have a two-year life cycle – do not delay or derail the meaningful resource management reform currently being carried out by the reform review panel being chaired by Hon Tony Randerson.

In two years the Randerson Panel’s recommendations should be ready for implementation with long-term provisions to speed up decision-making while protecting environmental standards.

RRNZ said that with cross-party political support the temporary measure announced by Minister Parker could be an important step to achieving the long-term reform of the RMA that all parties now agree is necessary for the environmental, social and economic future of New Zealand.

*RRNZ is a partnership between Infrastructure New Zealand, the Environmental Defence Society (EDS), the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA), Property Council New Zealand and BusinessNZ.

The EMA says its members will welcome the Government’s announcement of the Small Business Cashflow Loan Scheme, which will definitely help some survive.

Chief Executive Brett O’Riley says businesses certainly need the $10,000 for every company and additional $1800 for each equivalent full time employee offered under the scheme.

“The terms of this scheme are very similar to the Canadian approach which we and the other members of the BusinessNZ Network encouraged the Government to look at, and the fact that they are interest-free if paid back in a year is very helpful. We thank the Minister of Finance Grant Robertson for this response” he says.

“Even with other Government assistance, we know our smaller members are really struggling to cover their fixed costs with no cash-flow during Alert Level 4 or Alert Level 3.”

The EMA reiterates though that the solution to the cashflow problem is actually allowing people to get back to business, within health and safety guidelines.

Applications are being taken for the loan scheme from May 12, by which time we believe the country should have also returned to Alert Level 2, says Mr O’Riley.

“While $10,000 sounds like a lot of money, recent surveys by the Auckland Business Chamber suggest it is on average less than a month of fixed costs for a small business with less than 20 staff. They need to be able to generate their own cashflow as soon as possible and regenerate their business.”

“The vast majority of businesses are taking a responsible approach to health and safety practices in the workplace, and we can expect that to continue under Level 2,” he says.

“It’s time for business to start recovering its health.”

The EMA welcomed the move to Alert Level 3, and looks forward to confirmation from the Government that they have trust in the people and businesses of New Zealand to also operate responsibly at Alert Level 2 from May 12.

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