COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Act 2020

This Act provides for a short-term consenting process to fast track projects that can boost employment and economic recovery. The Act has a ‘sunset clause’ meaning it will be repealed two years from enactment.

Full text

COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Act 2020 [New Zealand Legislation website]

In force from

9 July 2020 — the Act has a ‘sunset clause’ meaning it will be repealed on 9 July 2022

Act purpose

The Act is intended to: 

  • fast-track resource consenting and designation processes for eligible projects that are already planned and ready to go
  • accelerate the beginning of work on a range of different sized and located projects
  • support certainty of ongoing employment and investment across New Zealand
  • continue to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources.

This supports the Government’s objectives for economic, environmental and social wellbeing. 

What the Act does

The Act establishes three pathways for a project to access the fast-track resource consenting and notice of requirement process. It is important to note that this process does not apply to plan changes.

Projects listed in the Act

The first pathway applies to the projects listed in Schedule 2 of the Act.

Applications for resource consents and notices of requirement needed for these projects can be made directly to the Environmental Protection Authority for consideration and decision by an expert consenting panel.

Projects referred to an expert consenting panel 

The second pathway applies to all other public and private projects. Any person can apply to the Minister for the Environment (and the Minister of Conservation if the project is in the coastal marine area) for their project to be referred to an expert consenting panel. If the Minister is satisfied the project meets the purpose of the Act and the eligibility criteria, the project may gain access to the fast-track process by being referred to an expert consenting panel through an Order in Council.

Once referred, applications for the resource consents and notices of requirement for a project can be lodged with the EPA for consideration and decision by an expert consenting panel.

Apply for the fast-track consenting process through an Order in Council

Permitted works on existing infrastructure

The third pathway enables Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, and KiwiRail Holdings Limited to carry out small-scale repair, maintenance and minor upgrade works on their existing infrastructure within the road and rail corridor without a resource consent (as a permitted activity).

The Act also enables government agencies Kāinga Ora and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, and local government to access these provisions if confirmed through an Order in Council.

Decisions made under the Fast-track Consenting Act

Find out more about the decisions made on applications for referral of projects to an expert consenting panel here. It is important to remember that referral of a project does not grant them resource consents or designations; these decisions are made by the expert consenting panels.

Decisions made on applications for referral of projects

Find out more about decisions made on resource consents and notices of requirements lodged with the EPA for consideration by the expert consenting panel. 

Status of fast-track projects [Environmental Protection Authority]

What happens when a project is referred to an expert consenting panel

When a project is referred to an expert consenting panel it is eligible to access the alternative consenting pathway the ACt provides. An applicant may lodge applications for resource consents and notices of requirements needed for their project with the Environmental Protection Authority for consideration by an expert consenting panel.

The expert consenting panel will then consider the consent applications and notices of requirement against the purpose of the Act and Part 2 of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), and make a decision to grant the consents or designations with conditions or decline the applications.

If an expert consenting panel decides to grant a consent, the relevant regional and district councils are responsible for issuing the consents and carrying out the compliance, monitoring and enforcement activities.

A panel may decline to grant a resource consent or notice of requirement if it thinks the project is inconsistent with the purpose of the Act or Part 2 of the RMA. A panel may also decline to grant a resource consent of notice of requirement if it is inconsistent with a Treaty settlement.

About expert consenting panels

An expert consenting panel is a decision-making body convened to make a decision on resource consent applications or notices of requirement. The expert consenting panels are appointed by the panel convenor, Judge Laurie J Newhook.

An expert consenting panel generally consists of up to four people. It is chaired by a current or retired Environment Court judge or senior environmental lawyer. It must also include a representative nominated by the relevant iwi authorities and a representative nominated by the local authorities.  The panel convenor has the discretion to appoint additional people to a panel if required.

Role of the Environmental Protection Authority

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) provides advice and administrative support to the panel convener and expert consenting panels. It does not regulate the panels’ decision-making procedures as this is up to the panels themselves. The EPA does not have the ability to suspend or delay the lodgement or processing of an application except when recoverable costs are not paid.

People and organisations that may be invited to participate in the process 

There is no requirement for public or limited notification of applications for resource consents or notices of requirement lodged with the EPA under the Act. However, a panel appointed to consider the applications must, before making a decision, invite comments from people and organisations listed in the Act.

These people and groups include:

  • specific Ministers
  • relevant iwi authorities
  • relevant Treaty of Waitangi settlement entities
  • the relevant unitary or regional and district (or city) councils
  • government departments (Department of Conservation, Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga)
  • adjacent landowners and occupiers
  • specific industry and advocacy groups such as the Environmental Defence Society, Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society, and Business New Zealand Incorporated.

The Minister for the Environment may also direct a panel to invite comments from specific people and groups before making their decision on an application. These people and groups are named in the referral orders. 

A panel may invite comments from any other person it considers appropriate.

How the fast-track process compares with RMA process

Benefits of the fast-track process over the standard RMA process

Decisions on a project’s resource consents (or notices of requirement) are likely to be made faster under the fast-track consenting process, particularly for consents that would be publicly notified under standard process.

The fast-track process occurs in two stages:

  • Referrals to an expert consenting panel. This process can take up to 40 working days.
  • The decision-making by an expert consenting panel. A decision must be issued within 45 working days (or 70 working days if the timeframe is extended) of the application being lodged with the Environmental Protection Authority

Overall the process is likely to take between 85 to 95 working days (or 110 working days if the timeframe is extended). Potential applicants are encouraged to contact the Ministry for the Environment to discuss their applications and identify ways to reduce the processing timeframes.

Actual processing timeframes for notified consents under the RMA in 2018/19 ranged from 142 to 249 working days (median of 206 working days).

Differences from a standard RMA consenting and designation process

A project can only access the fast-track process if the Minister for the Environment (and the Minister of Conservation if the project is in the coastal marine area) considers it meets the purpose and criteria of the Act by providing jobs and investment in a way that promotes the sustainable management of natural and physical resources. In comparison, any project may apply for consents or notices of requirements under standard RMA processes if the proposed activities are not prohibited under the relevant resource management plans.

Under the Act, the decision to decline or approve a resource consent or notice of requirement is made by a panel and not a local authority. However, a local authority does have the right to nominate a representative to the panel and provide comments to the panel. 

There is no requirement for public or limited notification of consent applications and hearings are at the panel’s discretion. However, the Act does require a panel to seek comment from a wide range of people and groups listed in the Act (see above). 

When deciding whether to grant or decline a resource consent or to confirm a designation, a panel applies the sustainable management objectives of the RMA as well as the purpose of the Act. As part of their assessment a panel must have regard to all the relevant local planning documents, national direction and iwi authority planning documents lodged with a local authority. Note: The Act process does not remove the requirement for an application to be assessed against the objectives and policies of the relevant local planning documents.

Under the Act a panel must decline a consent application if granting consent would be inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi or Treaty settlements. This is not a requirement under standard RMA process.

There are limited appeal rights on decisions made under the Act, as only certain persons listed in the Act may appeal to the High Court and only then on questions of law. Final appeals against decisions of the High Court are to the Court of Appeal only.

Implications for the resource management system

The RMA will remain the primary legislation to manage the built and natural environment. 

The Act does not amend the RMA. It only provides an alternative consenting pathway. 

Environmental management safeguards are built into the fast-track legislation. 

The Act is a necessary response to the social and economic effects of COVID-19 and is a short-term intervention to support recovery. It will not resolve the fundamental issues of concern with our current resource management system.  The report on the comprehensive review of the resource management system was delivered to the Minister for the Environment in late June 2020.   Until the reform of the resource management system is completed, the RMA is still the main pathway for resource consenting for projects.     

Read more about the review 

Legislative history

  • The COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Bill was introduced into the House and passed its first reading on 16 June 2020. You can listen to Minister Parker’s speech on the Whakaata Pāremata Parliament On Demand website
  • The Bill was referred to the Environment Select Committee, which reported on the Bill on 29 June 2020. You can read the report on the Parliament website.
  • The Bill passed its second and third readings on 2 July 2020. You can listen to Minister Parker’s speech [Whakaata Pāremata Parliament On Demand website]. 
  • The Act came into effect on 9 July 2020 after receiving Royal Assent. 
  • You can read the COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Act 2020 on the New Zealand Legislation website. 

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