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Fast-track Approvals Bill A Threat To Public Health, Warn Researchers

Public health researchers are raising concerns over the implications of the Fast-track Approvals Bill saying it will put Aotearoa New Zealand on the wrong track, circumventing legal protections for the environment and threatening public health.

In the latest Briefing from the Public Health Communication Centre, researchers highlight the connection between environmental and human health, and review Ministers’ comments to identify the types of projects likely to be prioritised under the Fast-track Approvals Bill.

“From our review of Ministers’ comments, the Government appears particularly focused on fast-tracking mining and new large roading projects, under the Bill. These types of projects undermine the country’s efforts towards reducing emissions and restoring the natural environment. This has intergenerational consequences for our health,” says co-author and University of Otago research fellow Marnie Prickett.

There are 3,300 premature adult deaths per year in Aotearoa as a result of air pollution, and around 34,000 people become ill from unsafe drinking water. The Bill would allow for Ministerial decision-making to override the Resource Management Act, including the usual consideration of, and restrictions on, air and water pollution.

Further to this, climate change has wide-ranging implications for people’s health and well-being. Cyclone Gabrielle, which resulted in 11 deaths and billions of dollars of damage, is the type of disaster that is predicted to increase with climate change.

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Even where projects could have public health benefits, like housing, the environment must be considered for the safety and longevity of developments. For example, the development of housing on flood plains can create risk to people’s lives and livelihoods, particularly as climate change brings more frequent and intense flooding.

“It’s not appropriate or responsible for a Bill to allow a small number of Ministers to override key legislative protections for the environment and public health,” says Ms Prickett.

The Fast-track Approvals Bill has been sent to Select Committee and submissions are open until 19 April 2024.

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