A water storage dam near Kaikohe is the first project in the country to be consented under fast-tracked Covid-19 recovery legislation.
Matawii Reservoir was given a green light on Tuesday by an expert panel chaired by former Environment Court Chief Justice Laurie Newhook, just 55 days after the project was lodged with the Environmental Protection Authority.
The fast-tracked process means work on the project — which could otherwise have been bogged down in the Resource Management Act for months or even years — will start this year and be ready to supply water in summer 2021-22.
The 18ha reservoir will be built on land owned by Far North Holdings, north of State Highway 12 near Ngāwhā, where it will supply an industrial park being developed by the council-owned company and new horticulture ventures. It will also provide a backup water supply for Kaikohe in times of drought.
Environment Minister David Parker said the project met all the requirements of the fast-track consenting process to create jobs and support economic recovery while protecting environmental standards and Treaty principles.
''Northland's economy has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. The construction of the reservoir will have a positive effect on employment in the region, and the increased supply of water to the area will have the knock-on effect of assisting other investment prospects to help us build back stronger."
The recently formed Te Tai Tokerau Water Trust, which is overseeing the project, estimated the dam would boost GDP by $9 million a year and create 60 jobs.
The trust was granted $8.5m and loaned $60m by the Provincial Growth Fund for a series of dams across the Mid North to boost development and head off future droughts.
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The project has also been welcomed by industry group IrrigationNZ, with chief executive Vanessa Winning calling it the ''first cab off the rank'' under the Government's Covid-19 Recovery (Fast-Track Consenting) Act.
"To get such a big infrastructure approval through in less than two months shows what can be done if the Government, iwi, and industry work together with common goals.''
Winning said the speedy approval lent further weight to the case for RMA reform.
Work on an access road to the dam site started a few days before the election with Shane Jones using a digger to start the earthworks in one of his last official duties as regional economic development minister.
The ceremony was also attended by Ngāti Rangi with representative Liliana Clarke saying the hapū would make sure it had a voice in all projects under way in its area.
■ Among other things, the consent allows Te Tai Tokerau Water Trust to dam the Kopenui Stream, carry out earthworks and take water from Wairoro Stream. The consent lists 18 pages of conditions. They include requirements that the dam meets national dam safety guidelines and be able to withstand a flood of 50cu m/s; rules around filling of the dam and screens to protect native fish; a relocation plan for inundated wetlands; a maximum take from the Wairoro Stream of 250 litres per second and no take when flow is below 154 l/s; and the establishment of a Kaitiaki Liaison Group. The fast-tracked decision can be appealed to the High Court but only on legal grounds.