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

The Government had a short-term consenting process to fast-track projects to boost employment and economic recovery in response to Covid-19. The Fast-track Consenting Act (FTCA) repealed on 8 July 2023.

Full text

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

In force

9 July 2020 – 8 July 2023.

Note the original term of the Act was extended by one year due to the outbreak of the delta strain of COVID-19 in 2021.

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. 

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.

For referred projects a decision must be issued by an expert consenting panel 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).

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

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 COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Act 2020 [New Zealand Legislation website] came into effect on 9 July 2020 after receiving Royal Assent.
  • In 2021 the government decided to extend the availability of the Fast-track consenting process to drive economic development and social benefits while the effects of Covid-19 continue to be felt across the country. Accordingly, on 3 November 2021, the Act’s repeal date was extended by one year from 8 July 2022 until 8 July 2023.

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