The Queenstown Lakes District Council's level of culpability
came under the spotlight yesterday in a land debate pitting
farmers against conservationists.
Representatives from both sides packed the public gallery on
day two of an Environment Court hearing in Queenstown
considering the cancellation of an interim enforcement order
against Hawea Flat farmer Dougal Innes.
The order was obtained earlier this month by the Royal Forest
and Bird Society of New Zealand to prevent Mr Innes carrying
out further native vegetation clearance and discing work on
his land next to the Clutha River, which is considered to be
During a break in proceedings, tensions were evident between
some of the Upper Clutha farmers and Forest and Bird members.
The council's planning and development general manager, Marc
Bretherton, said field notes prepared by the QLDC's
ecological consultant identifying the site's conservation
values had mistakenly not been provided to the council when
Mr Innes sought advice on whether his proposed farming
operation would require resource consent.
Mr Bretherton and council planner Ian Greaves subsequently
advised Mr Innes it appeared there would be no breach of the
''Based on the information that council held, there was
nothing telling me that he needed a resource consent,'' Mr
''Certainly, if we'd had possession of that [ecological]
information, that would have better informed our
understanding of the site ... and we would have been better
able to advise Mr Innes.''
Mr Innes was advised obtaining further information himself
would ''assist him in determining categorically whether
resource consent was or was not required'', Mr Bretherton
Mr Greaves said he did not tell Mr Innes to seek additional
advice from an ecologist.
However, as it was Mr Innes' obligation to ensure he complied
with the district plan rule on indigenous vegetation
clearance, it would have been prudent to do so, he said.
''So every time a farmer wants to clear his or her land and
they're not sure whether they've got any indigenous
vegetation on it, they're going to have to secure the
assistance of an ecologist?'' Mr Innes' lawyer, Jan Caunter,
asked, to which Mr Greaves replied, ''Yes.''
Both Mr Bretherton and Mr Greaves agreed with commissioner
John Mills there was nothing to indicate Mr Innes was
''anything but straightforward'' and had acted on the best
information available to him.
Earlier, Mr Mills asked Forest and Bird field officer Jen
Miller for her view of the council's response to Mr Innes'
''To be frank, if I was Mr Innes I would feel less than
satisfied. I think it was not really giving him any direction
either way ... Perhaps the council might have been more
helpful to him in terms of the information they had
available,'' Ms Miller said.
Wanaka landscape architect Anne Steven, appearing for Forest
and Bird, acknowledged it was ''somewhat unreasonable'' to
expect Mr Innes, as a private rural landowner, to be aware of
the ecological information relating to the land.
Mr Innes also took the stand.
''I've invested our entire savings in this property . . . and
I didn't intend to be in this position we are now,'' he told
Asked by Forest and Bird lawyer Sally Gepp whether he would
keep cultivating the land if the interim enforcement order
was cancelled, Mr Innes responded: ''I intend to farm the
property, so yes, that's the reason I purchased it.''
Mr Innes' planner, Duncan White, told the court the
attendance of many farmers at the hearing reflected concerns
in the farming community about the wider implications of the
interim enforcement order against Mr Innes.