OPINION: ‘Fast-track Bill will deliver positive changes’

It’s good to see the level of interest in the government’s Fast-track Approvals Bill, which has been referred to the Environment Select Committee for consideration.

This Bill is potentially important for Queenstown, where there are obvious challenges around the need for housing and infrastructure in our rapidly-growing community.

I’ve received plenty of positive feedback about what this Bill could mean for this area, and it’s fair to say there has also been interest from people and groups concerned for our environment.

Public submissions have been called for, and I encourage those with an interest to make a submission to the Environment Select Committee.

The last date for lodging submissions is Friday, April 19.

I welcome all feedback, and I think it’s important to outline how this Bill will work for both our growing community and the incredible environment the Queenstown-Lakes is so fortunate to be surrounded by.

This Bill is about fast-tracking approvals, not side-stepping or getting rid of environmental protections.

For too long, New Zealanders have had to wait years, even decades, before crucial projects in their regions are approved and consented, and the benefits flow to communities.

This new fast-track regime changes this, helping those who wish to build to do so in a more streamlined and efficient manner, while keeping the commonsense provisions and protections associated with a typical consenting regime.

Red and green tape have clogged the system and this government was told loud and clear at the election things needed to change.

The Fast-track Approvals Bill is a prime example of our focus to deliver the changes places like Queenstown need.

NZ is one of the most expensive housing markets in the world, and within that Queenstown is an extreme outlier.

Our house price-to-income ratio is almost double that of the national average.

Queenstown has the least affordable homes and the fastest growth rate (the highest growth rate of any Tier 1 or 2 city between 1996 and 2020 averaging 5.3%).

That’s more than twice the next city (Tauranga) over this time period.

It’s worth noting that an average annual growth rate of 5.3% means the Queenstown-Lakes population will double in just over 13 years.

With growth comes the need for responsible and effective development.

Lack of available sections may be pushing out development to surrounding settlements like Cromwell, increasing transport emissions and still leaving Queenstown in a similar predicament with everyday Kiwis priced out.

This Bill proposes establishing a permanent fast-track approvals regime for a range of infrastructure, housing and development projects, with the aim to lift living standards, productivity, and grow our economy — all while still protecting our environment.

It’s based on the former Resource Management Act fast-track regime developed by the previous government, but is more extensive in its scope and will be far more effective.

All projects will have to go through an expert panel.

Applicants will also be required to engage with local authorities and relevant iwi, hapu and Treaty settlement entities, providing evidence of how this has informed the project.

The conservation minister will be the sole-decision maker on concessions and Crown Mineral Act approvals at the final decision stage.

Activities that require permissions on national reserves held under the Reserves Act 1977 will be ineligible for the fast-track process.

This government is determined to cut through the thicket of red tape holding places like Queenstown back, make it clear we are open for business, and building a pipeline of projects around the country to grow the economy and improve our productivity.

Joseph Mooney is Southland’s MP

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