CWoH Submission on the Fasttrack Approvals Bill 2024

To the Environment Select Committee

Thank you for the opportunity to submit on the Fast-track Approvals Bill 2024.

 

Background

 

  1. This is the submission of Coromandel Watchdog of Hauraki Inc (CWoH)  on the proposed Fast-track Approvals Bill.
  2. We  wish to be heard in support of our submission, if there is an opportunity.
  3. We could not  gain an advantage in trade competition through making this  submission.
  4. CWoH has been working to protect our environment, and participating in local and national planning processes for more than 40 years. 
  5. We are a not for profit grassroots organisation that is managed by a committee of members and supporters.

 

Submission

Coromandel Watchdog of Hauraki opposes the Fast-track Approvals Bill in its entirety.

The Bill is an overreach by the Government; it would give Ministers an inappropriate decision making ability that would negatively affect communities and alienate them from decision making.

 

The Bill would override more than 30 years of community planning and design, 30 years of communities, individuals and groups, participating in the decisions on activities that will not only affect them, but future generations of Kiwis, both human and otherwise!

 

Fast-tracking applications for mines, tailings dams, rock stacks and other mineral extraction activities on Public Conservation Land, particularly without comprehensive public notification, demonstrates a lack of care for due process. It also represents a failure to respect the diverse values held by the public  of Aotearoa New Zealand as demonstrated repeatedly over successive years.

 

There has been mention that projects that have previously been declined by the Courts might be eligible for reconsideration under this Bill. That completely undermines the integrity of Aotearoa New Zealand’s judicial system, and is a very dangerous path.

 

If the Government does progress this Bill, which we are fully opposed to,  the following gives an outline of the minimum changes that would need to be made, however, even with these changes, we believe that this Bill, should it become law, would be hugely harmful and damaging for Aotearoa New Zealand and future generations.

 

Part 1

  1. The purpose (3) of the Bill must contain provisions for the environment such as recognising that only sustainable development is a priority for Aotearoa New Zealand. 
  2. The purpose of the Bill must require decision makers under it to give effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi; it must clearly commit to Te Tiriti o Waitangi Articles as negotiated with the rangatira in 1940.
  3. The purpose of the Bill must require consideration of the impacts on future generations.
  4. The Interpretation section has significant gaps, with terms like ‘significant’ and ‘benefit’ notably absent.

Part 2

  1. This section identifies that the Bill covers several Acts.
  2. The scope of this Bill is too broad, and incorporates too many Acts.
  3. The Bills ability to override local instruments like prohibited activity status is an overreach.
  4. S10(5) is contradictory, and highlights a lot of the wishful thinking associated with the Bill; it is not accurate to treat a consent that could be granted under this proposed legislation as having been granted in accordance with the best practice when it has not been required to have many of the basic elements of that practice i.e. an Assessment of Environmental Effects.
  5. S12 Allows for the joint Ministers to make referrals to a Panel. The joint Ministers are listed as Infrastructure, Transport and Resources, in some cases with Conservation. 
  6. The Minister for the Environment must be one of the joint Ministers.
  7. Ministers should not have absolute decision making power.

 

Sub-part 2

  1. It is not appropriate that applications need only provide a ‘general level’ of information. If the Ministers need to have information simplified for them, it should be done so by their staff, not the applicants, for reasons of independence.
  2. The requirement for a description of  the anticipated and known adverse effects of the project on the environment is too broad.
  3.  A description of adverse effects has little meaning when it is only informed by the applicant and persons on their payroll.
  4. The requirement is for a description of whether and how the project would be affected by climate change. 
  5. There should be inserted what impacts the project could have on climate change.
  6. There are no requirements to consider the international implications of allowing projects .
  7. 10 working days is not an appropriate amount of time to evaluate the completeness of such an application.
  8. Consultation  requirements only refers to engagement, an undefined term.
  9. Consultation should refer to consultation.
  10. In relation to mana whenua there should be provision for negotiation.
  11. Consultation should at the very least be open to groups and individuals that represent an interest  greater than the public interest.
  12. Consultation should include all of an affected community.
  13. Where a project is likely to have effects for several years to perpetuity, wider Aotearoa New Zealand must be consulted; such a proposal must trigger full public notification.
  14. The eligibility criteria for Ministerial consideration is restricted to economic considerations.
  15. Eligibility criteria should include consideration of environmental impacts, sustainability and impacts on climate change.
  16. There should be specific consideration for future generations’ ability to provide for themselves .
  17. The National and Regional benefit considerations are woefully inadequate.
  18. Aotearoa New Zealand is globally unique, with a range of ecosystems and species that are under threat today.
  19. Assessment of a National benefit cannot be made without consideration of those environmental factors and the impacts on them.
  20. Areas like the Coromandel have the majority of their economy based around the natural environment, both terrestrial and marine.
  21. Assessment of Regional Benefit cannot and must not be made without consideration of those factors and impacts on them.
  22. The economic implications of environmental impacts must be considered as high level priority factors for consideration.
  23. Consideration of the long term environmental implications of a proposal, such as potential climate impacts must also be considered.
  24. Economic implications of environmental impacts must not be confined to tangible, consideration should also be given to intangible factors such as ecosystem services.
  25. There is no justification for allowing projects that are prohibited under the Resource Management Act 1991.
  26. S18 discusses what are ineligible projects under the Bill.
  27. S18(f) and s18(h) create a high level of uncertainty over the integrity of Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act in relation to the Coromandel Peninsula.
  28. The proposed legislation effectively removes Schedule 4 protections from the Te Tara o Te Ika a Maui/Coromandel Peninsula, which are currently enshrined in Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act. 
  29.  If Schedule 4 areas are to remain protected under this Bill then that must include the Coromandel.
  30. There is no rationale for excluding the Coromandel from any overarching protections afforded under Schedule 4.
  31. The Bill raises serious concerns about democratic integrity. 
  32. For over four decades, the Coromandel Peninsula community, supported by both national and international visitors, has consistently expressed its opposition to mining activities within its territory.
  33. The current Bill prioritises the interests of the mining industry over the rights and well-being of the local community and future generations.
  34.  All land and water listed for protection under Section 4, Crown Minerals Act 1991 needs to be explicitly listed as ineligible under this Bill. 
  35. Section 19 advises whom Ministers should ‘seek written comments’ from.
  36. The term written comments is too broad and vague.
  37. The list from whom written comment must be sought must include the Minister for the Environment (although we maintain that that Minister should be one of the Ministers with responsibility for any such Act if it should become law).
  38. S19(3) implies that Fast-track applications will be able to occur in World Heritage Areas.
  39. World Heritage Areas are significant not only to Aotearoa New Zealand but also the world.
  40. World Heritage Areas should be treated with care, and given due consideration.
  41. It is not appropriate to Fast-track projects in World Heritage Areas and they must be explicitly excluded from Fast-track applications..
  42. With the volume and array of information likely to be required there will be extra pressures put on local government staff.
  43. Local Government is already stretched and clear provision must be made for how Territorial Authorities will be funded and supported if this Bill became law.
  44. There is no clarity around how many projects will be considered for any area at any given time.
  45. S21 covers decisions to decline projects.
  46. Panels should have the ability to recommend a proposal be declined, and the Ministers must have to accept that recommendation.
  47. Ministers should be able to specifically decline a project due to its potential impacts on climate change, or for having any other environmental effects that are inappropriate.
  48. The provision for only part of a project to be fast tracked opens the process up to making a mockery of all localised decision making processes in that an applicant could simply opt to fast-track the aspects of a project that they felt might attract community interest and input, thereby avoiding the right of the community to have meaningful input.. 
  49. This would allow for a serious undermining of resource management law and process in Aotearoa New Zealand.
  50. It appears that there is an option for a consent to not become active for some 2 years after it has been granted. 
  51. Given that this legislation is to enable fast development, the timeframe here is inappropriate and should be revised to 6 months.
  52. S25 covers the Panels reporting requirements.
  53. Again, we note that the Minister for the Environment should be one of the joint Ministers.
  54. The timeframes for appeal are too short given the complexity of the information to be analysed..
  55.  The appeal process should not be any more stringent than that found in either of the previous 2 Acts that provided for fast tracking.

 

Schedule 2

  1. We strongly and unequivocally object to the Government’s failure to list the projects to be included in Part A, or Part B of this schedule, in advance of the Bill being admitted to the House, or referred to the Select Committee.
  2. There is already existing Fast Track legislation that is adequate to achieve the stated aim of facilitating development.
  3. There is no justification for pushing through the Scheduled projects.

 

Schedule 3

  1. The matters to be considered do not include environmental or sustainability considerations and they must.
  2. The matters to be considered must include the ability of future generations to provide for themselves.
  3. Panel memberships are very small. 
  4. If only 4 people are to be on a Panel, it is unlikely that there will be an appropriate level of expertise to evaluate complex consent applications.
  5. Panel memberships should include  a clear requirement of environmental knowledge including ecological.
  6. A quorum of 3 is insufficient to make decisions or recommendations  of this magnitude.
  7. If iwi do not want to agree to a project, or to a change in other aspects that may have been agreed to in their settlement, that must be accepted.
  8. A Panel of 4 with the stated requirements is unqualified to decide on projects of any magnitude.

 

Schedule 4

  1. It is not appropriate for projects that are in the Resource Management Process, or currently subject to conditions and consents, be eligible for the fasttrack.
  2. As with most other sections in the Bill, the timeframes for consideration are too short. 
  3. An assessment of Environmental Effects should have the same requirements for the fasttrack as for the Resource Management Act.
  4. S13(1)(g) refers to monitoring and by whom that monitoring will be done.
  5. Monitoring and compliance details are for the regulator to dictate, not the applicant.
  6. Reclamation consents should not be able to be fast tracked..
  7. Section 20 states that the Panel must not give public notification. 
  8. In situations where a proposal will have an impact on the receiving community at the very least the community must have a say, and groups with an interest greater than the general public must also be consulted, particularly experts..
  9. The Minister for the Environment must, if not made a joint Minister as they should be, be able to make recommendations.
  10. Section 21 allows only 10 working days for someone who is invited to submit to do so. 
  11. 10 working days is too short of a timeframe, especially for lay persons.
  12. There is a provision in s23 that no person has a right to be heard. 
  13. Hearing expanded submissions allows expert information to inform a decision.
  14. If a panel has invited persons or groups to comment or participate, then it must not restrict that right as suggested in s24(12).
  15. If an applicant fails to produce further information within a specified timeframe then their application should be suspended, pending the result of a written warning. If the warning is not heeded for 20 working days, then the application should become void.
  16. Section 39 takes us to the Panel’s recommendations
  17. Again, there is a need for the Ministry for the Environment to be one of the joint Ministers, and one of the Ministers to prepare a report on the project that informs the final decision.
  18. The panel should make the final decision.

 

Schedule 5

  1. Ministers should have regard to all Conservation Management Plans and Strategies developed with iwi, hapu, whanau regardless of settlement.

 

Schedule 10

  1. Again the requirement that the Minister must have regard to environmental effects, sustainability for future generations is absent  and must be added.
  2. Direct economic benefits are unquantified.
  3. Direct economic benefits for future generations may be to leave minerals in the ground.
  4. Economic costs should also be considered including if and what it could cost the wider community, for example, the costs of a compromised/degraded environment, reduced tourism numbers etcetera to the tourism industry of the Hauraki Coromandel should mines be consented in the Coromandel Range.

 

Schedule 11

  1. The Public Works Act should be excluded from this Fasttrack Bill, as should the Conservation estate.

 

In conclusion, if this Bill becomes law, it would be highly damaging for Aotearoa New Zealand.

 

CWoH are particularly concerned that 3 Ministers would hold so much power. This is a dangerous position for the Government to take.

 

We do not support Ministerial decision making, and we do not support the Ministerial override of Panel conditions provided for in this Bill.

 

We are also deeply concerned at the failure to incorporate environmental considerations into this Bill; it is an attack on nature.

 

CWoH are also deeply concerned at the apparent removal of Schedule 4 (of the Crown Minerals Act) protections from the Coromandel Peninsula.

 

The implications for our environment are far ranging, and must be considered now particularly as  we are in a globally recognised climate and biodiversity crisis.

 

There appears to be little or no thought given to the international implications of the proposed Bill. This also flows into the concerns about how these sorts of issues might be considered under the Bill, should it become law.

 

Aotearoa New Zealand has for a generation worked to engage communities in local decisions, particularly the big ones.

 

The Fast-track developed under the Natural and Built Environments Act is enough to satisfy the need of development, at the same time as ensuring that our environment is considered too. This is vital for sustaining our nation’s resources into the future.

 

We do not see a place in our country’s planning for a fast track like this, that shuts communities out, or that ignores the obligations the Crown and their delegates have to Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

 

We do not have confidence that the Fast-track Approvals Bill pathway would lead to robust decisions for the future wellbeing of Aotearoa New Zealand. 

 

We ask that the Select Committee recommend that this Bill not progress to a Second Reading.

 

Again, thank you for considering our submission.