Politics | Fast-track bill

Auckland Council opposes fast-track bill, citing insufficient evidence and poor consultation processes

Auckland Council opposes the bill partly because of the power it affords ministers (from left) Chris Bishop, Simeon Brown and Shane Jones. Photo / RNZ

This article first appeared on the NZ Herald website.

Auckland Council is opposing the government’s proposed legislation to fast-track infrastructure projects, citing insufficient evidence, poor consultation processes and inadequate environmental safeguards.

Councillors Angela Dalton and Richard Hills appeared via video before Parliament’s environment select committee to make the council’s submission on the Fast-Track Approvals Bill, which had its first reading in the House in March.

Earlier this month, hundreds marched on Parliament as part of a protest over the bill organised by local iwi Ngāti Toa Rangatira, who warned the government of future protests if the bill led to negative consequences for whānau and the environment.

The law change would give three ministers – Chris Bishop, Simeon Brown and Shane Jones – the ability to green-light roads, dams and mines, regardless of whether their approval was recommended by an expert panel, puts biodiversity at risk, or has previously been denied consents by the courts.

Hills and Dalton referenced their concerns regarding the concentration of power, with the former saying experts should make final decisions instead of ministers.

Dalton said the ministerial powers were one of the issues that informed the council’s opposition.

“This bill is unsupported by evidence, it is poorly integrated, without adequate environmental safeguards and concentrates too much power in the hands of too few,” she said.

“Auckland Council has always supported fast-tracking RMA [Resource Management Act] approvals for significant infrastructure projects because [of] the importance of infrastructure to society.

“However, previous fast-tracking still considered the environment and was available for only a limited time and for limited matters, so with that in mind, Auckland Council opposes this Fast-Track Approvals Bill.”

Auckland councillor Richard Hills explained why he opposed the bill. (Photo: NZME)

Dalton supported the government’s commitment to protect existing Te Tiriti o Waitangi settlements alongside other Māori interests, but she believed the bill could be more specific.

“We’re concerned that the bill’s undefined term ‘Māori group’ creates uncertainty for all participants in the system. Of special concern is the risk of exclusion to Māori.”

Hills recommended stronger local authority participation to improve decision-making.

“I think if the community and councils are on board, you’re going to get a much better outcome in the end.”

Green MP and select committee member Scott Willis noted the council had supported the Natural and Built Environment Act, Labour’s answer to RMA reform that was repealed by the coalition Government.

Asked why the council supported that legislation, Hills said it had a “focus on the environment” and views for Māori and local communities were prioritised.

“There are some good things that I hope are carried forward into any new RMA changes, but unfortunately, this bill seems at odds with that direction.”

Adam Pearse is a political reporter in the NZ Herald Press Gallery team, based at Parliament. He has worked for NZME since 2018, covering sport and health for the Northern Advocate in Whangārei before moving to the Herald in Auckland, covering Covid-19 and crime.

- NZ Herald