The Fast Track Aprovals Bill: Your Submission Guide

Your handy guide for a submission that supports Aotearoa’s towns and cities becoming more prosperous and sustainable, faster – without the dodgy stuff!  Submissions close 11.59pm Friday 19th! 

Here’s one of the famed Talk Wellington submission guides. For background, whys, hows and wherefores, read on. If you’re wanting to whack in a submission on your bus ride or before the kids get home, jump down to our old friend the typing cat.

Why all this: we need to Build Good Stuff way faster!

NZ is pretty rubbish, compared to our peer countries, on many key aspects of nationally important infrastructure. This includes some that are well within our control, like how well we strategically target our planning and spending, and the efficiency of our construction processes. 

We need to get much faster and better at creating, maintaining and upgrading the physical stuff New Zealand needs.   That’s a big dashboard with lots of dials that need turning, levers that need pulling, and probably some new controls added in. But this legislation focuses on one dial:

The time it takes for infrastructure projects to get “approvals” – an umbrella term for the various permits under different laws and regulations, that are legally required for a project to proceed.  These requirements typically focus on making sure a Really Great Project doesn’t have lots of downsides which we’d only realise too late, and letting people have a say on things that affect them. So yes, the requirements were put there for good reasons.

But it’s been taking longer, and longer, and longer to get projects through them all and that’s inherently bad.

“Consent applications are now taking much longer to be processed. For all consent applications (not just infrastructure), the average time taken by authorities to make a decision has increased by 50% from 2014/15. Our analysis indicates the time taken to make decisions on consent applications for infrastructure projects may have increased by as much as 150% over the same period.”

Sapere, for Te Waihanga NZ Infrastructure Commission

​​The New Zealand Infrastructure Commission – Te Waihanga’s research into consent costs found that these make up around 5.5% of the overall budget for an average infrastructure project. Overall, the cost is around $1.3 billion annually. For smaller infrastructure projects under $200k, including water pipe renewals, culvert replacements, new school classrooms or cell tower upgrades, consenting costs, at 16% of total investment, are even more disproportionate. We are spending too much time and money before we even start construction, and this is reinforced when we look internationally.  

– Infrastructure NZ

The Infrastructure Commission recently found that if NZ is to meet its emissions-reduction targets (even allowing for a realistic uptake of EVs in our vehicle fleet) we need to halve resource consent processing times.  Speed them up by 50%. That’s a lot.

So, approvals is only one dial on the busy dashboard of Getting Good Stuff Built, but it’s a dial that has to turn down hard. 

Here at TW we were set up to welcome the Fast-Track Approvals Bill! Not least because one of the big reaons NZ’s not been able to get enough really important stuff over the years – think denser, more diverse towns and cities, more wind-generated electricity, better sewage plants – is due to too much of the wrong kind of public participation: often by a tiny and unrepresentative subset of communities, driven by concerns like “protecting the view from my house”.

But um, guys, your legislative process…   

So while we were excited about this Bill, even at a glance it’s… really hard to ask the core questions. Have these projects got the balance about right, between fast, good and cheap? Are the Ministers set up to make fast-tracking calls in a defensible way?

Who knows!  We’re hamstrung from giving good feedback on a Bill because a crucial bit is just missing: the Schedule 2A list of projects that’ll go straight to the expert panel, bypassing the eligibility criteria. It seems really perverse to have legislation specifically reducing input on major projects, yet precluding the public from using the only opportunity for input on whether those projects should be getting this treatment. 

While the government’s overuse of urgency in the first 100 days makes us (embarrassingly) thankful that this Bill is getting a normal legislative process, this missing stuff makes a big overarching challenge for doing submissions. That’s just bad government-ing by the government. 

Notwithstanding this gap, there’s plenty in the Bill to have a say about.

Your submission is really important – plus your kōrero! 

Once it’s passed into law, even with modifications, it’s likely there’ll be minimal opportunities for anyone to have any further input on a fast-tracked project, besides a couple of handfuls of select few

So take this opportunity! Submit by 11.59pm Friday 19th April.  

Once you’ve fired off a submission, you can have another chance to have a say: the Bill is going through a normal, full Select Committee process (something you miss out on with urgency).

We encourage you to take advantage of the Select Committee stage. Select Committees are awesome and a great place for legislation to get proper engagement from politicians, experts, iwi – and ordinary regular folks!  It’s really powerful if you go along and re-up your submission in person or virtually; politicians really take notice and appreciate when “real people” take part. (In your author’s experience, Select Committee members are also really conscious that it can feel intimidating as a submitter: they’re very pleasant and welcoming.) 

So, tick the “Yes I’d like to appear ” box on the form. The Clerk will get in touch about logistics, and you can always just say “No thanks” at any point if you don’t feel like it.

Remember, you can get in touch if you’d like some tips or support!

Update: submission party tonight!

This guide

Talk Wellington has compiled this guide with several sources because we know NZ needs to get faster at permitting good stuff and we want to not trash our environment, and we are Stans of good process.

It’s 80% done as of Thursday 2.30pm but we’ll keep updating it as others’ submissions and advice come in.

Please put in the comments any links to submissions or guides you’ve seen that’re good!

Our current sources are: 

  • VUW Climate Clinic’s submission guide – helpful introduction at the April Urbanerds and great accessible summary of the situation
  • Various green groups’ submission templates / petitions
  • Various water-related infrastructure and advocacy bodies (discussions and previews of draft submissions)
  • Submission by the Sustainable Business Network (short, and great on NZ’s trade and reputation)
  • Submission by public law expert Dr Edward Willis (great on those aspects)
  • InfrastructureNZ policy article (p7 here)
  • Various law firms’ analysis on the Bill – articles on their websites
  • Submission of the Resource Management Law Association
  • submission by University of Otago’s Centre for Sustainability with Takairangi Research

If you’re short on time, trust the TW kaupapa and just want to whack in a submission, flex those “copy / paste” paws, tickle up your editing brain, and get into it!  



You need to make a submission through the form on Parliament’s website.  

You can take a chance at a late one by emailing through to – because no official is going to be looking at submissions over the weekend. But the official one is the form.

Once you’ve done your name, contacts etc (and ticked the Yes I’d like to appear in support!) you can upload a document if you like, or just fill in the two boxes COMMENTS and RECOMMENDATIONS. 

We’ve suggested content for those two boxes. 

It’s possible to copy & paste-dump it in and hit Proceed, but please don’t just do that!  

Tutu with the suggestions below so they’re in your own voice, or at least rearrange to your vibe. The key thing is that it doesn’t look like a form submission and get lumped in with (eg) petition signatures.



1.Joint Ministers have too much vague, unchecked power to wave projects through, and the Environment Minister is absent 

This degree of Ministerial power is unprecedented since the Think Big era.

Ministers make all the key decisions, not even being required to consider the eligibility criteria (they “may”, not “must” consider what’s listed) – which is vastly out of step with good governance practice. The expert panel (which, in any case, Minsiters appoint with very few requirements) is recommendatory only and cannot say a project shouldn’t proceed.

And as noted, the Schedule 2A projects (those declared eligible for fast-tracking simply by being listed) is empty. Ministers will decide projects to go on this list – after submissions close!  It’s impossible for anyone to consider whether Ministers’ powers are appropriate, or whether the decision-making framework is about right, when there are no projects in the list. 

The absence of the Environment Minister amongst the Joint Ministers is startling given that Environment administers the RMA – arguably the main law being overridden.  Other affected ministers – such as Climate Change, Oceans & Fisheries – who don’t have a specific bit of legislation requiring a project get a permit already – aren’t required to be involved.

This amount of power seems really rash in the absence of the wider planning, development and environmental-management frameworks (whose reform / replacement legislation it scrapped). The government seems to be trying to establish huge ministerial discretion as a substitute for that work.

2.The Bill goes too far in ignoring impacts on the environment

The Bill has no hard limits on how much environmental harm, of what type, would disqualify a project. It allows joint Ministers to decide that an endemic species can be made extinct by a project, and that it’s OK for a project to destroy the water quality of a river, lake or stream, or mess with a waterway’s flow so much that it can’t function ecologically.  It’s extraordinary to have an explicit admission that a project is acceptable even if it’s doing one of those few activities that are so bad they’re prohibited under the RMA (clause 18).  

The expert panel doesn’t have any requirement for membership to include ecological or even “environmental” expertise. The absence of this is startling (and worrying, noting what happened with the Wellington Independent Hearings Panel lacking an expert in urban economics). 

Overall, this pernicious throwing-out of environmental concerns is not tolerable. New Zealand is an affluent, highly-developed nation and it’s not 1974 any more.  

Worldwide, it’s common practice to do “polluter pays” harm-reduction, biodiversity offsetting, and other investments to avoid or mitigate harm to the environment.  In the 21st century, self-respecting development companies expect to spend on these kinds of activities. 

For competent companies and alliances, operating in countries that have functional governance systems (and which trust their private sectors to innovate in response to good regulation), there’s no need to completely scrap baseline environmental protections to accelerate construction.  

3.Some criteria are good but too many kinds of projects, with too little merit, could conceivably get fast-tracked without important prerequisites

In combination with Ministers’ power to usher through projects despite their (negative) impacts on the environment, the positive criteria let through all sorts of stuff. Essentially, as long as it’s big and the Ministers like it, it’s eligible. 

It’s good to see the Infrastructure Priority List mentioned, and good to see outcomes such as reduced emissions, improved resilience, and better-functioning urban environments.   However it’s poor practice to single out industries for support, rather than outcomes: “primary industries, including aquaculture” are singled out and “development of natural resources, including minerals and petroleum” likewise. 

The list is also unbalanced in its specifics, giving airtime to specific industries (e.g. mining) yet omitting specifics like vital three-waters infrastructure for towns.  

The very same practices contributing to NZ’s poor ratings for infrastructure management – such as failing to strategically target investment to worthwhile infrastructure (aka doggedly pursuing RONS with poor cost-benefit ratios, and blatant regional pork-barrelling) – will be supercharged if the Bill proceeds as is.

It’s the core business of Te Waihanga to set out sound processes for holistically assessing the true costs and benefits of major infrastructure investments, and recommending independently how New Zealand should proceed.  Their advice should be the decision-making engine of this Bill.   

4. Iwi participation and Māori land: too little input, too much pressure to settle

Several commentators, including the Māori Party, have highlighted that projects affecting whenua Māori could be fast-tracked with very little input from the iwi concerned. If the iwi isn’t an instigator or development partner in the project, there could be just one representative of all iwi with interests in – for example – a very long new highway that traverses multiple rohe. 

There’s very little protection for whenua Māori that hasn’t had a formal declaration of Māori customary title or Māori reserve land, or been through a Treaty settlement.  In many areas, what’s thus protected is a small fraction of the iwi’s land interests they’re trying to regain.  If an iwi is concerned that their land is in the path of  – for example –  a major mining project that they do not want, this creates pressure to rush ahead with its settlement, compromising their negotiations.

There is no general Treaty clause in the Bill. This puts it out of step with the evolution of New Zealand’s legislation, by exempting the Crown from meeting its obligations as a sovereign partner under the Treaty. Sorry, that’s not good enough in the 21st century.



1.Joint Ministers’ power, involvement of absent Ministers 


Ministers should have less discretion both in the process (e.g. appointments of advisory groups and expert panel), and in the content (making decisions about projects’ fast tracking and requirements for approval).  In this respect the Bill should be written more like the COVID-19 Fast-track Consenting Act, and the expert panel should have (at least) the power to say a project cannot proceed. 

The Bill should have a sunset clause so that as New Zealand’s infrastructure and development planning, design, permitting and construction processes improve, this extraordinary power can be phased out. 

(See also Recommendations on point 3) – fast-tracking powers should only be exercised within terrain defined by the Infrastructure Commission – ideally both in terms of decision-making process and the list of projects, but at least in terms of the list of projects. 

The experts’ panel must include someone with relevant ecological expertise.

The Environment Minister should be included in the joint ministers. If there’s a three-minister limit for some reason, the Minister for Regional Development should be swapped out for the Environment Minister because regional development – especially in the absence of strong regional spatial plans – allows far too much scope for pork-barrelling.  

Other affected ministers – such as Climate Change, Oceans & Fisheries – who don’t have a specific bit of legislation requiring a project get a permit already – should be required to be involved

Individual Ministers should recuse themselves where there’s conflict of interest and reasonable likelihood of conduct which would reduce the transparency and accountability of NZ’s governance system (e.g. measures in the Corruption Perceptions Index)

2.The Bill goes too far in ignoring impacts on the environment


Include a reference to protecting the environment or to sustainable management in the Bill’s purpose (like the COVID-19 Fast-track Consenting Act).  

Projects should be ineligible for fast-track consideration if they are reasonably likely to breach key environmental bottom lines (e.g. local extinction of an endangered species, or sending a waterway’s water-quality below a bottom line in the National Objectives Framework, or breaching its minimum environmental flows). Projects should already have provided for minimising those impacts before they are considered for fast-tracking.  

There should be no fast-tracking petroleum exploitation in the 21st century (see also point 3). 

The new national direction for infrastructure being developed by Te Waihanga and MfE should be accelerated and incorporated into the decision-making framework around this Bill.

3.Some criteria are good but they’re much too loose

Ministers should be selecting prospective fast-tracking candidates from the National Infrastructure Priority List or at least a longlist determined by the Infrastructure Commission. Ministers and panels should also be using the assessment framework provided by the Commission. This will mean accelerating the Commission’s work in this space, and should be a prerequisite for any fast-track approval decisions over a certain scale.

Criteria currently relating to specific industries should be rewritten to describe outcomes as much as possible instead, and preclude petroleum exploration. 

The following points are added for completeness but would likely be covered off if Te Waihanga were setting the decision-making terrain for the fast-tracking of projects. 

No projects should be considered if they will increase NZ’s emissions, unless this can be proven to be an essential step in transitioning swiftly away from fossil-fuel use to significantly reduce emissions. Supporting NZ to meet its emissions-reduction targets should be an eligibility requirement.

No projects should be developing infrastructure for urban development on vulnerable land, such as at risk of flooding or sea level rise. Overall increase of resilience must be an eligibility requirement.

“Well-functioning urban environments” should be expanded in clause 17 to have much more airtime relative to (e.g.) mining, by including specific mention of outcomes such as less urban flooding, higher urban water efficiency etc, plus higher-efficiency movement (via mass transit and public transport) and greater social cohesion (via infrastructure such as multi-use community spaces and high-quality public realm)  

“Nationally-significant infrastructure” should be defined in the Bill to include three-waters infrastructure that’s regionally significant, and that’s locally significant for large populations and near unique, vulnerable ecosystems.  

4. Iwi participation and Māori land: too little input, too much pressure to settle

Add in a general Treaty clause. 

Add in checks and balances that reduce the risk of fast-track projects pressuring iwi to settle before they’re ready, or rush the processes for declarations that would protect land under this Bill.

[statement of support for ***** submission]

Have you seen some submissions or guides that aren’t just rabble-rousing, but are considered and specific? Please link them in the comments!

Image credits

  • Banner: RNZ
  • In-text photos: Talk Wellington

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