Environment Minister warns of trade-offs involved in Fast-tracking projects

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The Minister for the Environment says there is a trade-off over who can participate in submissions on 11 new fast-tracked infrastructure projects.

Environment Minister David Parker at a press conference announcing the Government's reforms to clean up our waterways, Beehive Theatrette, Wellington.

Environment Minister David Parker. Photo: Pool / Stuff / Kevin Stent

The government yesterday revealed legislation to fast-track 11 named projects, which it said would provide 1250-plus jobs for in housing, environment and transport.

The projects include the Kaikohe water storage facility, upgrades to Auckland’s Britomart station, the Skypath – the northern pathway cycleway on Auckland’s Harbour Bridge – and an upgrade to the Picton ferry dock and terminal.

Individual members of the public will not be able to participate in the submissions process, but industry, infrastructure and environmental groups and iwi will be able to make written submissions.

The Green Party is not backing the bill beyond the first reading unless they see changes to the power it gives ministers over iwi and environmental protesters. The National Party could still support the bill, which it will sight ahead of the first reading in the House on Tuesday afternoon.

Forest & Bird conservation manager Jen Miller told Morning Report there would be very little time to call in experts and scrutinise proposals.

She said in the timeframes allowed, the ability for opposing groups to have any effect was limited.

Forest & Bird would spend months working with organisations such as the NZTA on how best to achieve the project and protect the environment at the same time, she said.

“When you do this kind of fast-tracking you simply aren’t able to have that kind of robust scrutiny and you’re not able to ensure that it has the best impacts on the environment.”

Environment Minister David Parker said rights of participation were being truncated – but there were protections.

“There is a bit of a trade-off in how many people can participate.

“We are removing rights of individuals to participate and effectively leaving it to peak bodies, be they environmental NGOs or industry groups or pro-infrastructure groups or iwi.

“We are being clear that, in this two-year period for which the legislation lasts, rights of participation are truncated.

“The protections in that include the panel being chaired by an Environment Court judge who has the duty to apply the normal RMA principles.

“I agree that it’s desirable that you generally have wider rights of participation. But it does take longer and sometimes I think it is appropriate, such as this economic crisis that we face post-Covid, that we try and speed things up.

“Representative bodies like Forest & Bird … do have the right to make written submissions to the panel.”

The bill enables a second track of projects but Parker said he did not think there would be “thousands” of them.

The 11 initial fast-tracked projects named in the bill are:

  • 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.
  • 3) 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.
  • 4) Papakāinga Network Development – the delivery of papakāinga 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.
  • 5) Britomart East Upgrade – upgrades to Britomart station to ensure the City Rail Link project can operate at full capacity once services commence; 30 jobs.
  • 6) 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; 85 jobs.
  • 7) 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; 90 jobs.
  • 8) Picton Ferry Dock and Terminal upgrade – The project will improve rail services by expanding the docks and upgrading the passenger terminal; 200 jobs. KiwiRail notes that the design of the new terminal takes into account 100 years of projected sea level rise.
  • 9) 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; 50 jobs.
  • 10) 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.
  • 11) Te Ara Tūpuna – a cycleway and walkway between Petone and Ngauranga in Wellington; between 30 and 40 jobs. 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. It is an opportunity to strengthen existing sea walls and structures to make it more resilient to sea level rise and increased storm events.

– NZ Government

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