Decision by ORC angers farmers

Photo: Supplied
Photo: supplied
Federated Farmers is calling on the government to "do more to stop councils" after the Otago Regional Council voted to notify its land and water plan ahead of a timeline laid out by the Environment Minister.

New Zealand’s largest farming advocacy organisation called the council’s 7-5 decision to notify its plan by October 31 "a disaster".

Mana whenua and environmental organisations, on the other hand, supported the council decision this week.

Among those supporting the decision, Otago Fish & Game said the plan in place at present had allowed "damaging intensification" in the region.

Federated Farmers environment spokesman Colin Hurst said the last thing farmers fighting high interest rates, low payouts and drought needed was "more red tape".

The council’s draft plan, released last year, included fertiliser caps, stock rate limits and new fencing requirements for most of the catchments in Otago, he said.

But since that draft was released the government said there would be significant changes to the plan’s underlying national direction.

"It’s extremely disappointing that ORC is galloping ahead, wasting ratepayers’ money and heightening farmer anxiety, when changes mean their plan will have a lifespan of barely two years," he said.

"It is clear the government needs to do more to stop councils continuing to implement freshwater rules they themselves have stated they disagree with, and will soon change."

Before this week’s council meeting, Environment Minister Penny Simmonds called on the council to delay notification of the plan until after a new national policy statement for freshwater management (NPSFM) was written.

"It’s extremely disappointing that ORC is galloping ahead, wasting ratepayers’ money and...
"It’s extremely disappointing that ORC is galloping ahead, wasting ratepayers’ money and heightening farmer anxiety, when changes mean their plan will have a lifespan of barely two years" — Federated Farmers environment spokesman Colin Hurst
The council had been working towards a June 30 notification date, set by former environment minister David Parker, but Ms Simmonds rescinded that deadline and informed the council it had until December 31, 2027, to notify the plan.

Now, because the council decided to go ahead with notification before the new NPSFM was in place, the council must report to her the "costs, benefits and implications" of its decision.

Ms Simmonds did not respond to a request for comment after the 7-5 vote, but she rejected the premise she directed the council "to slow down its water plan to improve water quality" during oral questions in Parliament on Thursday.

Ōtākou Rūnaka upoko Edward Ellison said the council decision to notify the plan in seven months was "well considered".

Council staff would factor a recently completed regional policy statement into the plan, as well as provide the report to the minister.

In that light, the four-month delay from the previous June 30 notification date was "responsible", Mr Ellison said.

"Overall it is about getting a sound and fit-for-purpose planning framework in place to manage land and our important water resource in a sustainable way for the benefit of future generations," he said.

Otago Fish & Game Council environmental officer Nigel Paragreen said before the vote, regional council staff laid out the "genuine need" for a new plan.

They recognised that freshwater degradation and intensification of land use had taken place under the present water plan "and that we should not have confidence that the current plan will stop similarly damaging intensification in the future".

"We’re working with a deficient plan at present," he said.

Forest & Bird Otago Southland regional conservation manager Chelsea McGaw said the environmental organisation favoured notification of the plan in June after the considerable time and resource invested.

However, "a four-month delay isn’t the end of the world".

"The reality is that national regulations are always changing and councils just need to get on and improve water quality.

"We are hoping for no more delays and eagerly await plan notification at the end of October."

Central Otago Environmental Society chairman Phil Murray said the council had worked diligently over the past five years to gather the scientific evidence on which the decision was made.

In light of the understanding the council had of the ecology of Otago’s rivers, the society saw no good reason why the council should delay notifying the plan.