ORC plan backed despite pressure

Recently introduced environmental improvements will continue "no matter what political landscape we are in" the Otago Regional Council’s deputy chairman says.

Amid an overhaul of resource management legislation by the new central government, Otago councillors last month voted 8-4 against taking the "strong recommendation" of Environment Minister Penny Simmonds to delay the June 30 notification of the council’s contentious land and water plan.

Cr Lloyd McCall was one of two councillors who said the plan was "at a crossroads" during the debate before the February vote.

Yesterday, the deputy chairman, who voted with the majority, said council meetings this month would allow staff to inform councillors as to "where the plan is at" ahead of another likely vote.

"A decision to delay the plan must be considered in terms of our environment, our people and our commercial activity", he said.

"A pathway forward may or may not be found at the March meeting.

"The key is we will be better informed to decide a course of action", Cr McCall said.

Iwi, communities, industry groups, environmental groups, territorial authorities and government departments had had significant input into the "almost completed" plan, he said.

Council staff had been working well beyond normal working hours to meet tight deadlines, he said.

Their work over a total of five years was informed by more than 50 scientific reports, as well as economic and social reports.

"I am confident the changes made for the benefit of the environment in recent times will continue no matter what political landscape we are in.

"In the end what we do nationally will be judged by our international markets.

"Like it or not we are on a highly competitive global stage that demands environmental stewardship.

"From a purely economic view, sustainable land and fresh-water stewardship is paramount", Cr McCall said.

The other councillor who last month said the plan was at a crossroads, Cr Kate Wilson, also voted with the majority.

However, she said the vote on whether to delay the plan’s notification was premature at the time.

A decision about whether or not to delay should respect the outcome of consultation that had been under way since mid-January, Cr Wilson said.

The feedback might include "constructive comments that the staff need more time", she said.

The present draft of the land and water plan was created under deadlines imposed by the Labour government’s environment minister, David Parker, who found the council’s plans to protect fresh water were not fit for purpose in a 2019 inquiry.

Cr Wilson said in an attempt to please Mr Parker the council had not looked after the people working on the plan very well.

"We’ve expected too much.

"I think the community in their submissions will probably be suggesting the plan is not fit for purpose as it is.

"In which case, we would need to do some more work anyway.

"We have to be careful that we don’t say we’ll delay it and actually perpetuate problems, but there may be a light touch that we can do as an interim that would get us over some issues, but leave us room to bed down some better stuff."

Federated Farmers has argued for a delay while forthcoming changes to the national policy statement for fresh-water management remain unclear.

Environmental groups have urged councillors to resist the National-led government pressure and push ahead with the plan.

At the February meeting council chief executive Richard Saunders said the subsequent report to councillors this month would outline the risks of the options in front of councillors.