Our New Government – Can do, or canned?

2018 – A new year, which comes with a fairly new government that is busily (and quite effectively) cracking on with its 100 day plan.

The political reporters seem to be satisfied that these initial statements of intent and change are either delivered or on track. But as the 100 day deadline looms (3 February) – what happens next? 

With a particular eye on a couple of areas close to our hearts at TPG (infrastructure development and land law), I suspect there is some harder work required to be done on other election promises, or perhaps coalition results. 

The word most commonly used in the media to describe New Zealand Transport Agency’s East West Link project seems to be ‘canned’. Unfortunately for those living a bit closer to the action, like affected property owners, the situation seems to be far from that. The Board of Inquiry (BOI) process has carried on since the election, with a draft decision confirming the designation released in November – the final version is expected shortly.  

So ‘canned’ would seem to be a bit of an overstatement due to the BOI carrying on despite the change in government – the project has in fact been advanced as purposively as it can at this stage as pursuit of the difficult and costly planning approval has not wavered. 

Does a landowner living under the (now draft) designation take comfort from the media that the project is canned, or is it more worrying than that? I would suspect the latter. A real blight affecting the future usability of the property seems to be close to being issued, unless something is done to turn this statement of intent (to can it) into a meaningful action of change. 

The Labour led government has also advised that Te Ture Whenua Maori Land Act reform, which was close to being implemented by the previous government has also been canned. It’s more or less back to the drawing board for a good part of this, as Labour was fairly vocal in its opposition. The main concern here being that the Bill did not go far enough, nor appropriately take on board the views of some submitters. 

It may be a while until there is a prospect of new law here now, despite universal agreement that a change is badly needed. An issue we’ll continue to follow is the interface with the Public Works Act, due to sensitivities around possible compulsory acquisition of Maori land. The current Act has its difficulties due to some different possible interpretations as to how a compulsory acquisition may be executed. The recent Bill was also drafted a bit cryptically in this area – but the result seemed to be that compulsory acquisition of Maori freehold land was still achievable as Labour was critical of this result when last commenting on the Bill in Parliament.  

Noting this is a difficult area, it is hard to see how large scale infrastructure badly needed in New Zealand can be properly planned and fairly implemented without the backdrop of compulsory acquisition. We will closely follow any new proposals in this space, in the hope that some more direct and precise drafting will be given to what we see as an important, and always topical issue.