Fast-track Bill slammed by councillors

Photo: ODT Files
Photo: ODT Files
Dunedin city councillors have slammed the government’s proposed fast-track consent legislation as "anti-democratic" and "opening the door to corruption".

The council’s infrastructure services committee discussed yesterday a draft submission for the government about the Fast-track Approvals Bill, which aims to speed up decision-making about infrastructure or development projects.

Projects become eligible for the fast-track process through either being listed in the new legislation or through being referred to an expert panel by the Ministers of Regional Development, Infrastructure and Transport after an application from a project owner.

Nearly all the councillors supported the submission, which expressed concern about the potential to erode local decision-making.

Cr Steve Walker spoke about the "unintended consequences" of the Bill, particularly when it came to environmental impact.

"This city is the wildlife capital of New Zealand, and protecting our environment is a core driver of our economy."

Cr Christine Garey said it was "incredibly disheartening" the Bill could "run roughshod" over protecting the environment.

"This Bill could have a huge impact on our city in a very, very negative way."

Cr Brent Weatherall supported the submission, but hoped an "amicable outcome" could be reached with government, particularly when it came to preserving local decision-making while also addressing issues around red tape.

Cr Carmen Houlahan was "just gobsmacked" about the Bill’s potential impact on the environment, and for conflicts of interest.

Cr Marie Laufiso said the Bill was a continuation of the government’s antipathy towards the environment.

Mayor Jules Radich said there needed to be a balance.

"There is a general recognition that fast-track processes are required, and this is the latest response to that."

Mr Radich said it was important the Environment Minister also sit on the fast-track panel, and for councils to have the ability to recover costs.

Cr Kevin Gilbert said the Bill suggested central government had "no faith" in local authorities knowing "what is best for our people, our region and our land".

Cr David Benson-Pope said the Bill could be "charitably described as environmental vandalism" and had the potential to "open the door to political corruption".

Cr Jim O’Malley said any streamlining of processes should not be at the expense of oversight.

"This goes further than any fast-tracking in the past; it will clearly override district plans and is clearly susceptible to improper processes."

The councillors voted 13-1 in favour of the council’s submission expressing concerns about the Fast-track Approvals Bill.

Cr Lee Vandervis was the sole voice opposing the submission.

"Most of the businesses I speak to are incredibly frustrated by the micro-managing of compliance, and this submission is, to me, just more of the same.

"This submission adds to the smothering of any possible development with environmental and Māori sensitivity barriers.

"There is so much that cannot happen any more because everything has to be so compliant and take so long and be so expensive to even get through consent processes."

The council’s submission would likely be "greeted with an eye-roll" by central government.