National’s new leader Judith Collins plans to bypass the Resource Management Act for all of the upper North Island infrastructure projects announced last Friday.
The $31 billion programme included a four-lane highway from Whangarei to Tauranga (including tunnels under the Brynderywn and Kaimai hills) and a second Auckland harbour crossing.
It scrapped the Auckland light rail project and instead proposed a heavy rail line to the airport.
Collins says National would use the fast track legislation passed a fortnight ago to consent the projects.
“It’s not throwing away planning and the sorts of rules that we’ve always had in New Zealand for many generations,” she said at a media conference on Friday.
“It’s actually getting through these big developments.
“So right at the moment, we will be fast-tracking consents on all these big projects that we’re announcing where we need them to start.
“And we will not allow everyone else who wants to stop anything happening from stopping every other New Zealander; getting rid of the congestion that we face constantly and the angst in their lives.”
And if that doesn’t work, Collins will consider using special legislation.
“We did it after Kaikoura,” she said.
“We did it partly in Christchurch.
“We could have actually done a bit more, I think.
“You know, we learned from that that anything that stops it, you’ve just got to move it out of the way.
“We are moving into an economic crisis.
“And New Zealand does expect the government to lead, not to follow.”
Arguments like this were used by the Muldoon National Government to justify the draconian National Development Act which came before the era of the RMA but which essentially allowed the Cabinet to consent selected major projects (“Think Big”) without any consultation or reference to people likely to be affected.
Asked if she was returning to the Muldoon approach, she simply quipped that she was too young to remember him. (In fact, she was 20 when he introduced the Act and 25 when he lost power)
She said that, beyond her fast track consents, Naiutonal would repeal the RMA and replace it with an urban planning act and an environment act, but she gave no details.
And explaining her proposal to use the fastrack legislation, she suggested she would want that changed anyway.
As it stands the Act simply speeds up the consenting process by having selected consents sent by the Minister for the Environment to a panel chaired by an Environment Court Judge with a local government and iwi representative sitting alongside the Judge.
Otherwise, it preserves the fundamental principles of the RMA.
Collins critique of the RMA; that it is too long and complex and; that it encourages long drawn out consenting processes will be shared by many familiar with the Act.
Shane Jones made similar criticisms to the NZ First conference over the weekend.
But there is a reform process currently underway which has involved a number of National Party stakeholders the Employers and Manufacturers’ Association and the Property Council.
That process is being co-ordinated by the Environmental Defence Society.
Environment Minister, David Parker, had asked former Appeal Court Judge, Tony Randerson, top preside over a review of the Act. Submissions on that have closed, and a report should appear soon.
In the background is a 2017 productivity Commission report which called for a greater distinction between the built and natural environments.
Collins appears to be have picked up on that with her broad proposal for two pieces of legislation to replace the RMA; an urban planning act and an “environment” act.
She has not explained how the Randerson review and the EDS work would fit into what she is proposing.
However, she may be headed for political trouble with what would appear to be a reluctance to grant Maori participation rights in planning.
National had to reluctantly insert these into its review of the Act in 2018 as the only way it could get Maori Party votes to support its passage.
It would seem unlikely that her other political plan to make deeper connections between National and Maori would succeed if she abandoned the participation rights.
But that was what she appeared to suggest.
“We think it’s very important that we have everybody involved in it (planning),” she said.
“But I think it’s really important too is that consultation actually should be consultation, not the farce we have at the moment where everybody gets a say, and nobody gets the answer.”
Judith Collins is not the first National Party politician to make bold promises about reforming the RMA.
The irony is that the party’s voters are the people most likely to use the act — both to obtain consents to make objections to others applying for consents.