New Zealand Law Society - Law Society makes recommendations to improve Fast-track Approvals Bill

Law Society makes recommendations to improve Fast-track Approvals Bill

The Law Society has made a submission to the Environment Select Committee on the Fast-track Approvals Bill, raising concerns about how the fast-track approval process appears to be inconsistent with constitutional principles and good regulatory practice.

The Fast-track Approvals Bill sets up a ‘one-stop-shop’ regime for obtaining approvals under the Resource Management Act 1991 and other legislation through a single fast-track approval (FTA) process.

The Bill grants broad powers to specific Ministers and allows them to control which applications can progress through the FTA process, as well as the outcome of those applications.

The Bill also empowers those Ministers to either control or have influence over the appointment, removal, and remuneration of expert panel members, who are appointed to make recommendations about whether those Ministers should grant or decline approvals for specific projects.

These powers appear to be wider than necessary to achieve the policy objective of the Bill, which is simply to provide a “fast-track decision-making process to facilitate the delivery of infrastructure and development projects with significant regional or national benefits”.

The Law Society believes this framework is inconsistent with constitutional principles and Government expectations for good regulatory practice because:

  • It limits the right to natural justice, a right protected by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, by requiring feedback and limited consultation on proposed projects within very short timeframes.
  • It provides for a limited appeals process, which limits applicants’ right of access to the courts.
  • It conflicts with, and circumvents, the protections and safeguards against environmental harm embedded within other existing legislation under which approvals would otherwise be granted.
  • It also bypasses the consultation requirements under existing legislation and limits the opportunities for public consultation and engagement on projects which are, by their very definition, of significance to the public.
  • Projects approved under the FTA process may impact New Zealand’s ability to meet its international obligations (such as obligations under the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions).

The Law Society has made a number of recommendations to address some of these concerns. Key recommendations include:

  • Allowing for wider public and stakeholder consultation about projects which will deliver regionally or nationally significant infrastructure and are likely to impact on a very wide group of individuals, as well as on members of the public.
  • Reviewing all the timeframes specified in the Bill to ensure they are appropriate in the circumstances, and allow for meaningful input and engagement around applications which will be considered via the FTA process.
  • Considering whether it would be appropriate to allow merits-based appeals against decisions made under the FTA process.
  • Referring Schedule 2 of the Bill back to a Select Committee, once it is fully populated, to allow for Parliamentary and public scrutiny of the projects which can be referred to the FTA process.
  • Considering whether it would be more appropriate for the expert panels to make final decisions to grant or decline applications for approvals, in order to enhance public confidence in the decision-making process.

The submission also includes a clause-by clause review of the Bill and makes various other recommendations to improve the Bill.

Read the Law Society’s submission here.

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