Plans to change RMA offer chance to complete $1.4b busway project earlier - Goff

3:14 pm on 6 May 2020

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff is backing government plans to allow the fast tracking of resource consents that could see the city's $1.4 billion Eastern Busway project pushed through more quickly.

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Resource consents for stages two, three and four were not expected to be considered before next year until the government's recent announcement. Photo: Supplied

Last month, Auckland Council presented the Infrastructure Reference Group with a wishlist of at least 73 shovel-ready projects it wanted to see get government funding support, with a top 30 the council deemed its highest priority.

One project on the list that looks set to benefit from proposed changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA) is the Auckland Transport-led Eastern Busway.

Stage one of the project has already been signed off and work is under way, but resource consents for stages two, three and four weren't expected to be considered until 2021.

Environment Minister David Parker said the new legislation would allow for the faster processing of consents under the RMA and it was expected to be passed in June.

Under the RMA, much of the local decision-making is currently made by councils with the public having a right of participation and appeal. However, under the new powers, decisions for large projects would not go to council and public input would not happen.

Instead, a panel of experts, chaired by an Environment Court judge, would determine which projects get the green light.

Goff said Auckland Council supported the proposed changes, which are designed to promote a quicker economic recovery in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"The benefits are that we can get some core projects started earlier, then delivered earlier so Auckland achieves the infrastructure it needs to function as a city. We also see these projects as creating jobs, boosting incomes and boosting economic recovery."

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says planned changes to the RMA will help the city get the infrastructure it needs while creating jobs and boosting the economy. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Goff acknowledged there were downsides to limiting the public's input, but said the panel that would make decisions under the proposed system would include council and iwi representation.

"It also has a sunset clause, which means that the extraordinary measures are temporary to deal with the crisis we currently face. Some of our shovel-ready projects are already consented and most have been developed with care for the impact that construction will have on the public and environment."

He said the council would still make a submission on the legislation to ensure environmental standards were safeguarded.

The Eastern Busway project will see three new stations in Panmure, Pakuranga and Botany connected by bus, cycle and walking lines by 2025. Last week, Goff said the busway would help expand rapid public transit, cycling and walking as well as easing pressure on traffic congestion.

"It will help give East Aucklanders a congestion-free alternative to sitting in traffic and a less than 40-minute commute from Botany to the CBD."

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