Legislation could see second Mount Victoria tunnel fast-tracked

12:24 pm on 8 March 2024
New Zealand First MP Shane Jones

New Zealand First Minister Shane Jones says there will be 'no shortage of opportunity for New Zealanders to make their submissions' under the fast-track legislation which passed its first reading on Thursday. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

One of the ministers who could have the power to bowl Wellington homes under a fast-track consenting regime says worried residents should submit to the select committee, even though they do not know if the project has been approved.

The legislation, which passed its first reading on Thursday, would allow the government to bypass normal consent processes.

The prime minister said yesterday a second Mt Vic tunnel build may well be put through the new regime.

Shane Jones told Morning Report the tunnel was promised during the election campaign and no one should be surprised if consenting was fast-tracked.

"My colleagues from the National Party and a host of others in Wellington ... many of them have campaigned, they've submitted and they've made a lot of noise about the Vic tunnel."

He said anyone could make a submission if they were worried.

Asked whether a second Mt Vic tunnel was one of the projects on the list, he said the list was "under compilation".

"If your house is affected, you're really talking about the Public Works Act and if you have a look at the bill, there will be further work taking place in respect to the Public Works Act."

There would be "no shortage of opportunity for New Zealanders to make their submissions" to a select committee, he said.

Wellington City Councillor Diane Calvert told RNZ the city had been waiting for at least a decade for another tunnel to ease the chronic congestion around the Basin Reserve and she was picking the public would back a fast-track approach.

But fellow councillor Iona Pannett said the project would mean even more traffic, along with more pollution and greenhouse gases.

'We've already mined DOC land'

Critics have cried foul over the 'one-stop-shop' Fast-track Approvals Bill, with Environmental Defence Society chief executive Gary Taylor saying its powers were 'radical beyond measure'.

Infrastructure Minister Chris Bishop told RNZ's Checkpoint on Thursday that he could not guarantee conservation land would not be used for mining projects under the legislation.

But Jones, one of the three ministers given the power to make fast-track decisions said environmentalists needed to "overcome their preoccupation with mining not being permitted on DOC land".

"We've already mined DOC land," he said.

"There's hundreds of New Zealanders going to work today, digging up minerals on the DOC estate."

He denied he would be willing to risk the extinction of a species if the potential economic gains from a development were warranted, but said some "hard trade-offs" would need to be made.

"If we're not going to turn around our current account deficit through using dairy and other types of industries, we've got to open up new sources of revenue," he said.

Jones said his party had "campaigned unstintingly" on turbo-charging development in regional New Zealand "and then we took that aspiration into the coalition agreement and we secured the support of the prime minister to create this bill".

"Go down this morning to West Port, Greymouth, Hokitika, I'm telling you, people are out there are clapping loudly that at long last the natural resources of that area - whether it's the iron sands off Westport, whether it's the critical rare Earth minerals that are scattered throughout the West Coast - now people will have a clear sense of certainty, that is a genuine political debating point."

While the list of projects earmarked for potential fast-tracking had not yet been made public, Jones said he had met with "the vast majority" of the project companies.

"I've encouraged them to work with my officials and develop their proposals and eventually submit them once this independent process is up and going," he said.

"The list will be dropped into Parliament, the list also will also be publicly available, and the list will represent a pipeline of development in New Zealand which I'm hoping will go for at least 10, 20 years."

Fast-track legislation 'bad for nature', 'terrifying' for democratic process

Forest & Bird chief executive Nicola Toki told Morning Report the proposed legislation meant that even if an environment panel indicated it had major concerns about a project, it would have no power to say it could not go ahead.

It was "bad for nature and terrifying for our democratic process", she said.

"We've got a government that campaigned on local decision making for communities and getting the power out of Wellington so that communities could feel the strength of their ability to have a say about their place, and this legislation goes beyond anything this country has ever seen."

Toki said the fact that the list of pre-approved projects had not yet been made public raised issues around transparency.

"There's no doubt that processes can be better but the fundamental principles of a government and Parliamentary processes is ensuring that there is a level of independence and that when you tell the voters that you're going to make evidence-based decisions, you make that true."

The fact the decisions the ministers made about which projects to fast-track were only open to challenges on points of law meant non-for-profit organisations would be left to "stump up to court to fight something that is actually anti-democratic", she said.

Nicola Toki

Forest & Bird chief executive Nicola Toki says fast-track processes can work when they are done properly but her organisation has concerns about a lack of transparency regarding which projects may be fast-tracked. Photo: NZ Department of Conservation

"We have had decades and decades and decades of democratic processes - absolutely, they can be faster - we believe there is an opportunity for fast-tracks and they can work when they're done properly," she said.

"This government's throwing all of that in the bin."

Bill could unlock aquaculture projects thwarted for years by 'uncertain consenting processes'

While environmental groups are crying foul over the bill, it has received a support across a range of industries, including mining, transport and aquaculture.

Aquaculture New Zealand chief executive Gary Hooper said the bill could unlock a range of projects in the sector, but the industry also realised it needed to protect the environment.

"Aquaculture offers New Zealand a massive opportunity in terms of increasing export earnings, creating jobs, creating positive economic and social stimulus in regional New Zealand."

Those opportunities had, for many years, been thwarted by "expensive, lengthy, and uncertain consenting processes", he said.

"I think New Zealanders should respect the expertise that will be involved in the panel that'll be considering these applications."

Hooper said the aquaculture sector was "very proud" of its environmental record, noting that New Zealand was the only country in the world that had received a 'best choice' endorsement from the internationally-recognised Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch programme for its farmed salmon, mussels and oysters.

"We take very seriously our kaitiaki responsibilities."

He confirmed there was a proposal that MPI was engaging with different parties on, to extend existing consents within the sector.

"We would greatly support that."

Hooper said he believed minister Jones' assurances to Morning Report that the process of identifying which projects were being considered for fast-tracking would be transparent.

"We will see what is released in terms of the detail of the bill as it progresses through the select committee processes and we'll take it from there."

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