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The first step in the Otago Regional Council complying with Environment Minister David Parker’s requests following a review of its planning processes has been taken.
Councillors agreed to publicly notify the council’s proposed regional policy statement, which sets the direction for future management of Otago’s natural and physical resources, during an extra council meeting on Wednesday.
The meeting was scheduled to be public-excluded, but after Cr Hilary Calvert argued that the public had the right to know what was motivating councillors’ decisions, it was changed to a public session.
The proposed policy was developed after a review of the regional council’s planning functions was carried out by Prof Peter Skelton, as requested by Mr Parker, in 2019.
It found that the council’s freshwater planning framework was not fit-for-purpose and it was recommended that the council notify a new regional policy statement by the end of June 2021.
Council chairman Andrew Noone thanked staff, iwi and community representatives for bringing the policy together in a "dramatically" shortened timeframe.
A report from council staff to councillors at Wednesday’s meeting said that notifying the policy was a "significant" milestone in complying with the Minister’s recommendations.
Chief executive Sarah Gardner also recognised it as a "day of achievement".
"We are incredibly proud of the work that has been done."
The proposed policy is a part of a transition towards a new national freshwater management framework, which would be set in the new land and water regional policy due for notification in 2023.
It was also a step towards a more integrated and holistic resource management framework, which would drive decision-making on applications for resource consent, regional and district plans and the regional coastal plan, staff said.
Although most councillors were happy to see that Maori creation traditions were included in the new policy, Cr Michael Laws decided not to vote because of it.
"I have enormous problems putting into one of our official documents, no matter how good intentioned and no matter how culturally appropriate it might be, the religious or spiritual views of others," he said.
"That just strikes me as weird and wrong."
Cr Gretchen Robertson said she could not let go of the comments made by Cr Laws.
"It is important to weave right through this document the Kai Tahu values and they are here, and that is great to see."
Cr Michael Deaker echoed Cr Robertson.
"As the grandfather of a large number of grandchildren in this region, all of Ngai Tahu descent ... they will understand the creation story as simply a part of their whakapapa and be thrilled that it is acknowledged in a document like this."
Councillors, except for Cr Laws, voted to publicly notify the policy on June 26.
Submissions will be open from that date until September 3.