We recently took the opportunity to express our concerns about the Fast-track Approvals Bill. Here is our submission to the Environment Committee:

 

The Hauturu Supporters Trust is dedicated to the protection and enhancement of Te Hauturu-o-Toi / Little Barrier Island. The island was declared Aotearoa/New Zealand’s first nature reserve in 1895. It represents the last remnants of primeval New Zealand and serves as an invaluable refuge for rare and endangered plants, birds, and animals. As part of our conservation estate, the island holds both national and international significance.

We are deeply concerned about the implications of the Fast-track Approvals Bill, particularly in regard to its potential impact on local ecosystems and species, many of which are endangered or unique to our shores.

Key Concerns Regarding the Fast-track Approvals Bill

1.      Public Involvement and Decision-Making Process

The Fast-track Approvals Bill significantly reduces public participation in the approval processes for development projects. This approach is antithetical to the principles of democratic accountability and transparency that are fundamental to sound environmental stewardship. Given the potential for significant adverse effects on the environment, it is crucial that all stakeholders, including local communities and indigenous groups, have the opportunity to provide input and express their concerns.

2.      Impact on Local Ecology and Conservation Efforts

The Bill proposes mechanisms that could allow for harmful projects like sand mining to be expedited without adequate scrutiny. Sand mining on or near the conservation lands of Te Hauturu-o-Toi could have devastating effects on the surrounding reef systems, which are already under considerable pressure from overfishing. The erosion and sedimentation from such activities could lead to significant degradation of these delicate ecosystems, affecting both biodiversity and water quality.

3.      Conservation Protections

We are particularly concerned that the Bill may override key conservation protections that safeguard habitats for threatened and endangered species. The ability to fast-track projects that could harm these species or their habitats poses an unacceptable risk, potentially undermining decades of conservation efforts and investments aimed at preserving New Zealand’s natural heritage.

Recommendations

  • Ensure Public Involvement: Amend the Bill to maintain robust mechanisms for public participation in the environmental decision-making process, ensuring that the voices of affected communities are heard and considered.
  • Protect Conservation Lands: Explicitly exclude any development activities on conservation lands from the fast-track approval processes, especially those that could lead to irreversible environmental impacts.
  • Consideration of Indirect Impacts on Marine Ecosystems. The Fast-track Approvals Bill should require all developments to assess direct and indirect impacts on marine ecosystems, this is particularly important to avoid long-term impacts on seabirds and marine mammals.
  • Align with Environmental Legislation: The Bill should be aligned with existing environmental protections under the Resource Management Act (RMA) and other relevant legislation, ensuring that environmental values are not sidelined in the rush to approve development projects.

Concluding Comments

The Hauturu Supporters Trust urges the Select Committee to consider these concerns seriously and to recognise the potential long-term consequences of the Fast-track Approvals Bill on New Zealand’s natural environments, particularly in sensitive areas like Te Hauturu-o-Toi. We recommend a cautious, measured approach to any changes in the approval processes for development projects, especially those that could impact our nation’s conservation lands and the biodiversity they support.

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