Urgent COVID-19 legislative changes to allow more time for environmental processes

The COVID-19 Response (Management Measures) Legislation Bill is currently before Parliament under urgency.  This omnibus bill makes amendments to various legislation and is aimed at assisting the Government and New Zealanders to manage more effectively, and recover from the impacts of COVID-19.

The Bill amends three key pieces of environmental legislation to allow more time for key environmental processes to occur.  Depending on your interests, the proposed changes will present opportunities to you and your business, or they may have the effect of delaying progress.  We discuss the proposed amendments below.

Repeal date of the COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Act 2020 to be extended by one year until 8 July 2023

  • The COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Act 2020 (Fast-Track Act) was introduced to provide a unique resource consenting and designations process (distinct from the standard processes under the Resource Management Act 1991) to fast track projects that can boost employment and economic recovery in New Zealand.
  • The Fast-Track Act originally had a sunset date of 8 July 2022. The Bill proposes to extend that date to 8 July 2023.  This will come as good news to those who are planning or intending to rely on the processes under the Act to fast-track a development or project.

Statutory timeframes for key climate change policy decisions under the Climate Change Response Act 2002 to be extended by six months

  • The proposed amendments will extend the date for the first emissions reduction plan (Plan) and the first, second and third emissions budgets from 31 December 2021 to 31 May 2022.
  • As a result of these extensions, the setting of auctioning limits and price controls for the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) through regulations will also be delayed.  To ensure that the regulations can come into effect in 2022, the Bill seeks to disapply the usual three month delay to their commencement after their date of notification in the Gazette, or on any later date specified in the regulations.  In practice this means less time to prepare for the implementation of new auctioning limits and price controls for ETS participants.
  • The Bill indicates that the extensions are necessary because of delays to consultation and engagement on the Plan caused by the current COVID-19 outbreak.  They are no surprise and follow the Minister for Climate Change, Hon James Shaw’s, recent announcements.
  • The extensions may come as a disappointment to those hoping for prompt action from the Government in responding to climate change and the Climate Change Commission’s advice (which was delivered to the Minister on 31 May 2021).  On the other hand, the extensions will enable more time for consultation and engagement on the Plan, which will be important given the potentially significant and wide ranging implications of the Plan for businesses, communities and individuals.

More time for planning processes under the Resource Management Act 1991

  • The proposed amendments will defer the requirement for local authorities to initiate 10-year reviews of regional policy statements and regional and district plans by the close of 30 September 2024.
  • The amendments will additionally provide an alternative process for the Minister for the Environment to extend the requirement for regional councils and unitary authorities to update regional policy statements in accordance with national planning standards to May 2024 (i.e. providing two more years to complete the updates).
  • The Bill indicates that the changes are necessary to alleviate pressures on local authorities due to COVID-19.  They are to be repealed on 1 October 2024.

We can help

If you have any questions about the effect of the changes proposed by the Bill, or how the changes may impact or provide an opportunity for your business, project or development, please get in touch with one of our experts.

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