A fast-track environmental test to short-circuit the RMA is welcome but fast-track projects should pass a business test, too

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

  1. 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.


  2. 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?


  3. 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.


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