Aotea/Great Barrier Local Board members.

Board Mobilises Against Fast-Track Bill

The Aotea Great Barrier Local Board is gearing up to submit its concerns on the government’s controversial Fast-Track Approvals Bill, as part of the Auckland Council’s collective feedback.

The bill, promising streamlined processes for significant infrastructure projects, has sparked debate across political and environmental circles.

Chair Izzy Fordham is vocal about the Board’s stance, expressing reservations about the specific impacts of the legislation on the island’s environment and community.

“Our board is very concerned about this legislation and what it potentially could unleash. Being an island community, we are extremely vulnerable and there seems to be no consideration of the environment or a community’s way of life when it comes to focusing on ‘think big projects’.”

Fordham recalled mining on conservation land proposals from the 2010, John Key government.

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“Approximately 14 years ago Aotea faced the possibility of mining for minerals on Conservation land, could we be facing that again?” she said.

The Bill introduces a “one-stop shop” for project approvals, seeking to address criticisms of the RMA’s high costs and lengthy wait times, which the government says are barriers to development and economic progress.

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Chris Bishop, the minister charged with resource management reform, has highlighted the current system’s annual $1.3 billion cost to infrastructure projects, as justification for the overhaul, with the new system projected to save around $10 billion over 30 years.

Fordham argues the bill only pays lip service to environmental concerns and may lead to rushed projects.

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“This bill appears to ignore the necessity for open and transparent processes leaving it up to 3 Ministers to make the decision,” she said.

“From what we understand those Ministers can refer any proposal to a panel, if they in turn disagree with the panels thinking they can stamp their power of veto and job done!” she added.

The bill’s exclusion of Treaty of Waitangi principles, aligning with the new government’s election promise is a contentious point for some mana whenua, amid broader apprehensions about the bill’s implications.

“This bill appears to ignore the principals of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.” Fordham says.

Public feedback is sought on the Fast-Track Approvals Bill following its passage through the first parliamentary reading, with submissions open until April 23, 2024.

This bill is the first phase of the government’s proposed RMA reforms, which will culminate in a new Act, following comprehensive policy review.

Fordham insists Parliament’s current efforts should be on comprehensive RMA reform, not on broad-stroke fast-track bills, or tweaking policies at the edges.

“Focus should remain on reforming the RMA before leaping into something that lacks depth and detail, after all, the devil’s in the detail and at this stage there ain’t none,” she said.

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