Hill country changes deferred

Southland hill and high country farmers are breathing a sigh of relief after Environment Southland has again deferred proposed changes to hill and high country development rules.

The changes propose to not allow development to take place more than 700m above sea level, to not allow fodder crops to be established on slopes greater than 20 degrees, and to ensure development does not take place within 20m of permanently flowing water or within 5m of a gully.

The decision was made at the council's July 9 meeting and followed their first choice of not implementing the plan changes at their June 18 meeting as councillors believed they needed more information and to work with land owners.

At public meetings held in Gore and Mossburn, the proposed plan changes were presented to farmers by Environment Southland director of policy planning and regulatory service Vin Smith, senior resource planner Fiona Young and senior land sustainability officer Gary Morgan.

Ms Young said Environment Southland wanted to allow hill and high country farmers to develop their land, and they wanted them to follow good management practices.

The trio were met in force by hill and high country farmers from throughout the region who wanted their views heard and questions concerning the proposed plan changes answered.

Dipton farmer Jared Collie put to Environment Southland staff and councillors at the Mossburn meeting that he believed 20 degrees was unreasonable for a land development slope.

He warned council that if they did not listen to what farmers had to say, they would not stand by and let it happen. They would have a fight on their hands.

There was applause for Mr Collie. Environment Southland chairwoman Ali Timms agreed with Mr Collie, saying council wanted to make the decision that best suited everyone and made the plan changes as easy and effective as possible.

Other key issues raised by farmers at the Mossburn meeting was that the conditions of the plan change would only have to be met over the colder months from May to September when the damage to water quality and soil would be most affected, which was confirmed by Environment Southland.

Questions raised during the meetings focused on the conditions of the proposed plan change, the consent process and how the changes would be implemented.

Environmental management committee chairman Nicol Horrell chaired both meetings and said it was incredibly valuable to get the information from the farmers, and it was important for council to understand the concerns of those farmers affected by the change.

It was as a result of these meetings and other feedback provided to the council that staff would now be reviewing the plan change and the approach to implementing the plan changes.

Southland Federated Farmers acting president Allan Baird said they were pleased the council had listened to what farmers wanted.

''Considering the quality of water in the upper catchments is generally good, Federated Farmers believes the best way forward is to abandon the rule of making hill high country farm development a regulated process.''

Draft Rule for Hill and High Country Development as proposed by Environment Southland:

- Development does not take place above 700m above sea level.

- Fodder crops are are not established on slopes greater than 20 degrees.

- Development does not take place within 20m of permanently flowing water.

- Development does not take place within 5m of a gully.

If these conditions could not be met a resource consent would be needed as it would no longer be a permitted activity but a controlled activity.

An application for resource consent under the proposed new rule would not need to be notified and would not need to be served on anyone who might be affected by the activity.

The only circumstance where notification would need to be given is when the applicant would request being notified or the council considered special circumstances would warrant notification.

Environment Southland's goal of this focus activity is to ensure hill country development is properly planned to minimise adverse environmental effects, in particular soil loss and its resulting impact on water quality.

It is also a part of the council's larger environmental project Water and Land 2020 and Beyond.

- by Nicole Sharp 

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