Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Federated Farmers back fast-track consents

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Feds says consents are a major issue that’s holding back the investment desperately needed to unlock the potential of our rural and provincial communities.
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By Mark Hooper, Federated Farmers national board member

A water storage scheme in Kaikohe, a green hydrogen project in Taranaki, a solar farm in Rangiriri, a new hospital in Dunedin, a railway station in Drury, and the replacement of sewer pipes in Porirua.

All these projects have received a so-called Resource Management Act ‘fast-track’ under a mechanism introduced in 2020 to cut through red tape and actually make stuff happen.

Activist groups like Greenpeace and the Environmental Defence Society call it “an assault on our natural world” or “a dark day for nature” – but do people really care what they think?

Most reasonable Kiwis would agree that all of these projects have made our country a better place to live from an environmental, social, and economic point of view.

It’s an unfortunate reality that, without a fast-track process, all these projects would have had a much more expensive, time-consuming and unpredictable consenting path. 

In some cases, the projects may have never happened at all, with investors walking away from a proposal because the broken consenting pathways were too great a barrier. 

This is a major issue that’s holding back the investment desperately needed to unlock the potential of our rural and provincial communities – and to grow New Zealand’s economy. 

A fast-track scheme is a solution that’s been used by both Labour- and National-led Governments to cut through the red tape of the Resource Management Act (RMA). 

That being said, it’s far from perfect and there are plenty of issues with this approach. At best it’s a temporary solution to paper over the cracks in the current resource management system.

Unfortunately, a Ministerial process is always going to favour the big end of town rather than smaller businesses, but small businesses like farms face expensive resource consenting processes too. 

There are also concerns that these kinds of approvals are overly political in nature and that without a Ministerial patron you’re unlikely to have much luck. 

An irrigation scheme in Kaikohe may get onto a fast track purely because Northland is viewed sympathetically by the Minister, while other equally deserving projects in Hawke’s Bay, Canterbury or Wairarapa could miss out.

Those are legitimate concerns, and I don’t want to dismiss them, but does anyone have a better plan right now? 

Ultimately, the only long-term solution here is a completely new resource management system that isn’t dependent on workarounds. 

Until that system arrives, I’m a strong believer that we should continue to use fast-track consents as a short-term fix. 

The country can’t just sit around doing nothing while we wait for a new RMA to fall into our lap. 

Now the Government have reinstated fast-track consents, they need to quickly turn their attention to the much bigger task of drafting new environmental and urban planning laws.

The tired and broken RMA system is responsible for so many of our country’s problems, from housing and infrastructure through to farming and industry. 

An inability to progress new investment and move projects forward has held our country back by decades compared to where we should be – and all Kiwis are worse off as a result. 

While it would be fair to characterise the necessary reforms as the Government’s biggest challenge, I also believe they present the biggest opportunity to transform our country and leave a lasting legacy. 

These reforms should be undertaken at pace. There’s absolutely no need to view this as some sort of multi-term project, and it shouldn’t take half a decade to develop a new law. 

We don’t even need to design a system from scratch. There are plenty of other countries that deal with the same environmental trade-offs as New Zealand but have found ways to regulate these without grinding all development to a halt.

The real prize at stake here is an enduring resource management framework that gives Kiwis confidence to invest, get ahead and prosper. 

Federated Farmers are asking the Government to make that framework a top priority over the next three years.

Federated Farmers, New Zealand’s leading independent rural advocacy organisation, has established a news and insights partnership with AgriHQ, the country’s leading rural publisher, to give the farmers of New Zealand a more informed, united and stronger voice. Feds news and commentary appears each week in its own section of the Farmers Weekly print edition and online.

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