The government is to short-circuit the unwieldy and time-wasting Resource Management Act to fast-track projects it likes to call “shovel-ready” as a major element of its plan to get the economy up and running again.
Environment Minister David Parker says:
“We went hard and early to beat the virus and now we’re doing the same to get the economy moving too. The success of our health response gives us a head start on the world to get our economy moving again and this fast tracking process will allow our economic recovery to accelerate”
In effect the government is recognising the RMA legislation is obsolescent, a block to economic progress. As ACT’s David Seymour pointed out, the 900-page RMA is the single biggest impediment to progress, and to housing affordability in particular.
In accepting that the consenting and approval processes previously used don’t provide the speed and certainty needed now in response to the economic fallout from COVID-19, Parker says environmental safeguards remain. The resource consent applications for these projects will be processed by an Expert Consenting Panel.
But this is the telling line in Parker’s announcement:
“ Once a project is referred to the Panel there is a high level of certainty the resource consent will be granted”.
The instruction to the expert panel, reads like: “turn it down if you dare”.
A number of “shovel-ready” projects identified by the Infrastructure Industry Reference Group are likely to be accelerated under the fast-track consenting process. These are “ready to go” developments which can start once the construction industry returns to normal.
Someone will have to break the news to Transport Minister Phil Twyford that with roading projects and the advances of modern techology, pick-and shovel construction was discarded some years ago. The difficulty may be in finding from the dole queues of tourism and hospitality the workers needed by the skilled operators of heavy machinery on projects like Transmission Gully, the motorway out of Wellington to connect with the new Kapiti Expressway.
The $20bn Gully project is said to have been slow to re-start after the Covid-lockdown because of the absence of staff recruited from Australia and it is rapidly falling behind its scheduled completion date later this year.
The government, of course, is being showered with ideas for the projects it should include in the programme short-circuiting the RMA, with “fast intercity rail services” punted up by the Greens. They want $9bn spent on regional links including to conurbations like Masterton and Rangiora.
Greens co-leader James Shaw says building rail creates more jobs than building motorways.
He might have added: more blow-outs in KiwiRail’s finances.
At the very least, the government should insist on subjecting the job-creation projects with rigorous cost-benefit analysis, and rank them accordingly.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson, once he sees the dole queues stretching along The Terrace on his way to the Beehive, might be keen to revive the second Mt Victoria tunnel project, said to have been blocked by the Greens soon after the coalition took office.
Twyford could also rally voters in the capital if he got his shovel out to turn the first sod on the Otaki-Levin extension to the Kapiti Expressway (which was also set to get the green light two years ago) before the September election.
Parker says job-rich projects like core infrastructure, housing, and environmental restoration are crucial to the Government’s plan to stimulate the economy and help the recovery from the damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
That sounds fine, but there is no point in building bridges to nowhere or train services that few people want to use.
Some large-scale government-led projects, including those in the NZTA’s Land Transport Programme, will be named in the legislation to go through the fast-track consent process. Projects that help alleviate housing challenges, encourage “ active” transport and enhance the environment are prioritised under the proposal..
But shouldn’t these all be subject to the scrutiny not just of environmental experts, but also those with business, economic and construction experience?
3 thoughts on “A fast-track environmental test to short-circuit the RMA is welcome but fast-track projects should pass a business test, too”
As you note, the big problem will be finding plant operators for the excavators and the like. There aren’t many spare just sitting around and you won’t be able to train unemployed hospitality workers to do the job. Even relatively simple jobs like driving trucks with their complex gearboxes would be beyond most “young” drivers. They need to learn how to drive a manual car first. How many can do that? And how many of them could take working outside in all weathers? Look at any roading gang you come across and the only ones under 40 seem to be on the Stop-Go signs.
Be easier to train that new found labour pool up to be hammerhands and build houses – oh wait, that’s Kiwibuild and we know how that turned out.
Several interesting things to note from this article.
https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/121389053/transmission-gully-project-likely-pushed-out-to-2021 First is a lot of construction workers have gone back to Oz so there is already a labour shortfall. Second that “shovel ready” projects can’t start in many places until the ground is dry enough. In Auckland, this is about October. Third, it appears the government has cut funding to existing projects, so where is the money for new ones coming from?
Or is this just the latest of debacles that make government soundbites but fail in execution?
Reblogged this on The Inquiring Mind and commented:
As I noted in an earlier post today there will be waste. Virtue signalling will abound especially from the Greens. There is a strong probability that a herd of hugely expensive white elephants will be created.