Call for ORC to delay plan action

Photo: Supplied
Photo: supplied
An apparent desire to stay the course with Otago’s draft land and water plan could cost the region’s ratepayers millions, a former deputy chairman of the Otago Regional Council says.

At a meeting in Oamaru today, councillors could vote on whether to stick to a present notification date of June 30, or delay notification of the controversial plan.

Cr Kevin Malcolm said a letter to Environment Minister Penny Simmonds would clear up apparent "confusion" at the council as to the legitimacy of the June deadline set by former environment minister David Parker.

"I was of the understanding that the current Minister of the Environment is in charge not a minister whose government got thrown out," Cr Malcolm said.

Last week, Resource Management Act Reform Minister Chris Bishop, Agriculture Minister Todd McClay and Ms Simmonds met council leadership to discuss how the new government’s plan to update national freshwater management policies would affect the council’s under-development land and water plan.

The ministers recommended the council not notify the plan as soon as it intended.

A staff report in today’s agenda said council staff were reviewing the draft plan to determine which areas might be affected by a change in the national policy statement for freshwater management (NPSFM).

A full report on this review would be presented to councillors at next month’s council meeting, the report said.

While the new government had extended the deadline for regional councils to notify new NPSFM compliant water plans from the end of this year to December 2027, that extension did not at present apply to the council, it said.

Ministry for the Environment staff had confirmed the deadline of June 30 set by former environment minister David Parker still applied, the report said.

Cr Malcolm said as a councillor he was not aware of information staff had that might inform their March paper.

And as for the June deadline, a letter to Ms Simmonds informing her the council was delaying notification of the plan until her review of the national policy statements was complete "is all we need to do".

"But, alas, there seems to be a push to get a legal opinion here and another there, push ahead and create millions of dollars of additional costs to our ratepayers," he said.

Cr Gary Kelliher said he planned to call for a vote on a delay at today’s meeting.

The reason government ministers were asking the council to pause progress on the plan was "they don’t want our ratepayers, our constituents, spending money, time and effort, consulting on plans that are going to change quite substantially", Cr Kelliher said.

"That’s fair and reasonable, I think."

He believed some staff and a "reasonable number of councillors" were determined to carry on with the present draft plan.

"You have some sympathy towards ‘a lot of work’s been done on it’, but our new government campaigned in a very different direction and a lot of our community across Otago were up in arms at this plan.

"Do you leave them fighting, or do you pause and await this direction?

"To me it’s a no-brainer."

Cr Elliot Weir said councillors had been provided with a thorough summary of last week’s meeting with the ministers.

However, councillors had no clarity on which areas of the land and water plan might be impacted by a change in the NPSFM, Cr Weir said.

"None of us have any clarity, as no clarity has been provided by the ministers on what they actually plan on doing," they said.

"It is unclear if they know that themselves.

"The only thing that is totally clear is that they would like us to stop what we are doing."

A Ministry for the Environment spokesman said if June 30 passed and the council had not notified its land and water plan, Ms Simmonds could choose to take action under sections 25 or 25A of the RMA.

This could include specifying a reasonable period by which the plan must be notified.

Or, Ms Simmonds could extend or rescind the deadline.

It was too early to say what the changes to the NPSFM would be, the spokesman said.

"Ministers have agreed to a robust and full consultation process as part of the review and replacement of the NPSFM."