Government’s Fast-track Approvals Bill released under 100 Day Plan

11 March 2024

The Government has released its Fast-track Approvals Bill (the Fast-track Bill) as part of its 100 Day Plan. The Fast-track Bill was introduced to the House under urgency on 7 March 2024 and is currently with the Select Committee for the public submission process.

The Fast-track Bill offers a fast-track consenting process for certain listed and referred projects that will have significant regional or national benefits. The objective of the Fast-track Bill is to reduce consenting costs and timeframes to enable the efficient implementation of large-scale projects.

The Fast-track Bill provides a fast-track consenting option for projects that require one or more of a range of approvals including a resource consent and notice of requirement under the Resource Management Act (RMA), authority under the Wildlife Act 1953, approvals under the Conservation Act 1987 or the Reserves Act 1977, and a proclamation under section 26 of the Public Works Act 1981 to take or deal with land.

A project will become eligible for fast track by either being:

    1. Referred to an expert panel by the Ministers of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Transport (the Joint Ministers); or
    2. Listed as a project under Part A or Part B of Schedule 2 of the Bill.

Part A listed projects are automatically referred to an expert panel without requiring referral from the Joint Ministers. Part B listed projects must be referred to an expert panel by the Joint Ministers. The Fast-track Bill does not currently contain any listed projects. An advisory group will be established to recommend projects to be listed in the Fast-track Bill during the Committee of the Whole House stage.

Upon referral, an expert panel will have six months to review a project and recommend any relevant consent and/or permit conditions. The project will then be sent back to the Joint Ministers who may approve or decline the project, or refer the project back to the expert panel if they consider that the conditions are too onerous.

Although modelled on the fast-track process under the COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Act 2020 (CRFA), there are a number of key differences between the two fast-track regimes:

The purpose of the legislation
  • The purpose of the Fast-track Bill is to facilitate the delivery of infrastructure and development projects with regional or national benefits, whereas the purpose of the CRFA was to promote employment and stimulate the economy during the pandemic, while continuing to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources.
  • While the CRFA provided a short-term economic growth stimulus in response to a specific period of economic uncertainty, the Fast-track Bill is aimed at facilitating the efficient delivery of significant infrastructure over an indefinite time period.
  • Unlike the CRFA, there is no reference to the sustainable management of natural and physical resources in the purpose of the Fast-track Bill.
Project eligibility criteria
  • The eligibility criteria for determining whether a project meets the purpose of the Fast-track Bill and should be referred to an expert panel, includes whether a project will:
    • support primary industries, including aquaculture; and
    • support development of natural resources, including minerals and petroleum.
  • This is different to the eligibility criteria under the CRFA, which were more broadly focused and did not include reference to supporting any specific industries.
  • Additionally, under the Fast-track Bill projects are automatically considered to have significant regional or national benefits if it involves an aquaculture settlement area declared under section 12 of the Māori Commercial Aquaculture Claims Settlement Act, or an area identified within an individual iwi settlement as being reserved for aquaculture activities.
Types of approvals
  • The Fast-track Bill has been described as a “one-stop shop” approval regime and allows the fast-track regime to be applied to a broader range of approvals than under the CRFA. This includes a “more efficient mechanism for Public Works Act 1981 processes”.
Prohibited activities
  • The Fast-track Bill contains a specific provision stating that a project is not ineligible because that activity is a prohibited activity under the Resource Management Act 1991.
  • Conversely, the CRFA specifically stated that a project would not be eligible for fast-track if it included a prohibited activity.
Treaty of Waitangi
  • Persons acting under the Fast-track Bill, must do so in a manner that is “consistent with obligations under Treaty Settlements.” This largely reflects the approach under the CRFA as it relates to Treaty Settlements, but the CRFA also included a reference to acting in a manner that is consistent with the principles of The Treaty of Waitangi.
Role of the expert consenting panel
  • Under the CRFA, projects were referred by the Minister for the Environment to the Environmental Protection Agency. An expert consenting panel would consider the project and could choose whether to grant a project subject to conditions, or decline a project. The panel could decline both listed and referred projects.
  • Under the Fast-track Bill, an expert consenting panel only has the power to draft conditions and provide recommendations. It cannot approve or decline a consent. Whether a consent is granted fast-track approval rests entirely with the Joint Ministers.
Relevant Ministers
  • The Joint Ministers are responsible for making decisions on project applications. These Ministers did not have any specific powers under the CRFA.
  • Under the CRFA the Minister for the Environment (and Minister for Conservation where the project would occur in the marine coastal area) was responsible for making referral decisions.
Decision making
  • When making decisions on projects, the purpose of the Fast-track Bill takes precedence over considerations in other legislation and planning instruments, including national direction under the RMA.

The Fast-track Bill has retained the reference to a two-year lapse date, which means it won’t be a viable option for entities wanting to secure mid to long-term approvals. Overall, the Fast-track Bill represents a significantly different approach compared to the status quo to consenting and authorising projects which are implementation ready.

If you have any questions about the matters raised in this article, please get in touch with the contacts listed or your usual Bell Gully adviser.

Disclaimer: This publication is necessarily brief and general in nature. You should seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters dealt with in this publication.