NZ First might seem washed up but Kaikohe’s water storage project (helped by the PGF) wins fast-flow consent

Hurrah – someone in the Beehive is back in the business of braying about the approval of the spending of public money.

Fair to say, it seems the Government did not actually make the decision to approve a new water storage reservoir in Northland, the first of several infrastructure projects

 … earmarked for a speedy consenting process that aims to accelerate New Zealand’s economic recovery from Covid-19.

But Environment Minister David Parker said the government did welcome the decision.

He made something of a meal of it, actually, banging on about a veritable trifecta of virtues.  The project will –

  • Boost the economic recovery from Covid-19;
  • Protect environmental standards; and
  • Satisfy Treaty of Waitangi principles.

If the project did not pass muster in the Treaty department, would the plug have been pulled?   

The project is the Matawii Water Storage Reservoir, which will provide drinking water for Kaikohe and support Northland’s horticulture and agriculture sectors.

Te Tai Tokerau Water Trust says the 750,000 cubic metre water reservoir in the upper catchment of the Kopenui Stream, east of the township of Kaikohe, will be used to supply water for town supply (residential, commercial and industrial uses) and irrigation.

Parker enthused that this was the first project approved by an Expert Consenting Panel under the Covid-19 Recovery (Fast-Track Consenting) Act 2020.

“This project, and others like it earmarked for fast-track consenting, will accelerate our economic recovery from Covid and create jobs. It demonstrates the Government’s ongoing commitment to investment in our regions,” David Parker said. 

“This project meets all the requirements under the fast-track consenting process to promote employment and support our economic recovery, while protecting environmental standards and Treaty of Waitangi principles.”

The economic benefit mentioned by Parker (it should be noted) were provided by the applicant:  

The applicant estimated that there could be an increase in GDP of $9 million a year and an additional 60 full-time equivalent jobs – representing a 2 per cent increase in employment in Kaikohe and its immediate surrounding area.

Hmm.  We should always be curious when words like “could” are injected into cost-benefit considerations.

Parker then highlighted why the Resource Management Act is such a drag on project promoters wanting to get work done in a hurry:

The decision to approve the project was made by an Expert Consenting Panel led by former Environment Court Chief Justice, Laurie Newhook. The decision was made in 55 days from the time the application was lodged with the EPA, around half the time it takes for a similar consent to be granted under the Resource Management Act consenting process. 

How much of the taxpayer’s money is being poured into the project?

In April, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones announced construction could begin as early as this year on a water storage facility in drought-stricken Northland following studies which have identified some promising sites.

Up to $30 million had been provided through the Provincial Growth Fund for Far North, Mid-North and Kaipara to investigate potential water storage sites in the regions.

That work had been completed and several sites identified near Kaikohe and Kaipara.

This statement recalled that, in February, Jones and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters had announced up to $12.7 million to make Northland more resilient in the face of extreme weather.

That funding came on top of up to $18.5m from the PGF to Northland Regional Council to progress water storage projects

In June, Peters and Jones announced plans for water security for Northland were “moving at pace”, with the location of a new water storage site decided and a further $37.5 million investment.

Both Ministers hoped work would begin earlier than initially announced in April if the project could be fast-tracked through new Resource Management Act provisions developed by Parker.

Jones said the additional PGF funding of $37.5m would be used to accelerate and expand the delivery of the Northland water storage programme as part of the Government’s COVID-19 response.

Projects to be considered under the fast-track process are referred in two ways: those listed in the Act or those referred by the Minister for the Environment through an order in council.

More information about the Matawii decision is on the EPA website. More information about applications for fast-tracking through the Order in Council process is on the Mfe website.

And how have Jones and Peters been rewarded?

Oh, dear.  New Zealand First no longer has an MP in Parliament, let alone in the Cabinet.

Jones, who stood for Northland, won 4543 votes on election night.  Thus he came in a distant third behind National’s Matt King (15,377 votes) and Labour’s Willow-Jean Prime (14,608).

As to the party vote, Act won greater support than New Zealand First:  Labour won 16,931 party votes, National 11,317, Act 3880 and New Zealand First 2351.

Is New Zealand First washed up as a political force, despite the efforts Peters and Jones put into improving Northland’s water supply?  Let’s see.

Latest from the Beehive

28 OCTOBER 2020

Fast-tracked Northland water project will accelerate economic recovery

The Government has welcomed the decision to approve a new water storage reservoir in Northland, the first of a number of infrastructure projects earmarked for a speedy consenting process that aims accelerate New Zealand’s economic recovery from Covid-19.

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