Local involvement and environmental bottom-lines will be key to the Green Party's support to any future reform of the Resource Management Act, co-leader James Shaw says.
On Thursday, the party voted against a government bill to fast-track consent approvals for infrastructure projects, forcing Labour to rely on the National Party's support to pass the legislation.
The special legislation shortcuts normal consenting processes under the Resource Management Act to speed up consents to keep jobs and build infrastructure as part of the economic response to the covid-19 pandemic.
The bill, introduced by Environment Minister David Parker, allows 11 specific projects to bypass notified consenting processes and instead go through expert panels chaired by a current or retired Environment Court judge, with local and iwi representatives and technical specialists. They will be expected to issue decisions within 25 workings days of receiving comments on each application.
Shaw said the bill aims to fast-track some large-scale projects, but sacrifices public input and thorough consideration of environmental impacts to do so.
"Although the bill was put forward with good intent, and the Greens have worked constructively throughout to improve it, in the end we could not support it," he said.
The Greens supported the Covid-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Bill through to select committee, to "give it the benefit of the doubt," Shaw said.
This involvement led to stronger environmental and climate safeguards, and more extensive stakeholder and iwi consultation, but not enough to win the party over.
"For us there is a very high threshold for something like this," Shaw told BusinessDesk.
"The bill has moved a lot in the direction that we were looking for since it was first introduced and David Parker worked very hard to make sure that it did, but it didn't quite get there."
The RMA, introduced in 1991, has been subject to constant reform amid concerns processes are too costly, take too long and frequently end up in court. Efforts to improve certainty with national planning standards have been mixed and some environmental outcomes - particularly water - have got worse over time.
Parker last year announced a sweeping review of the legislation. Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones, involved in the development of the original act, last week said the fast-track process would demonstrate how broken the RMA had become.
Shaw said two standards would have to be met to win the Green's support for future reform: affected communities getting to participate in decision making, and environmental bottom lines being as strong as possible.
"We are certainly not opposed to reform. Everyone knows the system needs reform, but we'll be thinking about it through that double lens," he said.
Scott Simpson, National's spokesperson for environment and RMA reform, said those requirements were in direct contradiction with streamlining the consent process.
"This is a bill the Greens didn't want to support right from the very beginning, I think they got browbeaten into it, then right at the last minute, after a long debate under urgency, they voted against it," he said.
Without the Green's eight votes, National was left to make up the shortfall.
"All we got out of it was the satisfaction of supporting a piece of legislation that hopefully will provide the fast tracking of a relatively small number of worthy projects," Simpson said.
Simpson said having to resort to the fast-track bill illustrated how fundamentally the Resource Management Act had failed.
"The RMA as we currently know it has probably ceased to be a useful tool both for our environment or our planning legislation and it is probably time to start again, that however is long process," he said.
Simpson said he was "keenly awaiting" the report from the resource management review panel, chaired by retired Court of Appeal judge Tony Randerson, which was currently "sitting on the minister's desk".