Aim high but be realistic

The declining quality of water in our lakes and rivers has become one of the biggest issues facing New Zealand.

There may be argument over which factor is the largest contributor to the deterioration — dairying, urban runoff, accelerated erosion — but nobody could reasonably deny the gravity of the problem and the fact something urgently needs to be done about it.

An oil tanker takes many kilometres to stop. In similar vein, the magnitude of the degradation of freshwater is such that, even if the flow of every pollutant was somehow magically staunched today, it may still take years for waterways to recover.

The Otago Regional Council has announced some laudable targets for making rivers and lakes across the region "swimmable". These are to meet its obligations to the amended national policy statement for freshwater management.

The council is aiming to have 95% of "specified" rivers and all "specified" lakes swimmable by 2030, and 100% of both swimmable 10 years later. These intentions go beyond the national targets outlined in the statement.

Superficially, such sanguine aims are to be applauded. However, the ambitiousness of the council’s targets has some, including Forest & Bird, questioning how realistic they are, and which ones the "specified" waterways are.

The organisation’s freshwater advocate, Annabeth Cohen, says the avidness of the projections may reflect the fact the regional council has left a number of lakes and rivers out of its plan. That would mean only larger rivers — "fourth-order streams" — and lakes larger than 1.5km are included, and many small, popular swimming spots have been overlooked.

The council has not yet responded to that suggestion. But it would be good to know what is and is not part of its cleanup programme.

Targets are all very well but they need to be realistic and the details of what is involved also need to be clear.

In the meantime, Forest & Bird is right to say the council needs to be a strong defender of the environment against ongoing changes from intensive dairying and urban development.

Heritage Dunedin

Plans for a boutique hotel on the corner of Cumberland and lower Stuart Sts are more good news for heritage Dunedin.

Work is under way on the top three floors of the four-storey former Conservation House to convert it to a 19-unit boutique hotel. 

The 1910 building is part of an impressive historic area and is close to the restaurant and bars of lower Stuart St and the Octagon.

It will help with inner-city ambience and parking is catered for via basement car parking.

Crucially,  this is a new use for an old building.  As times change older uses often become redundant.  History can only be preserved frozen in time in limited museum-like settings.

The best way in most circumstances to maintain  heritage — whether threatened in the short-term or even safe for now —  is for contemporary uses.

Dunedin has come a long way in recognising its built history and its architectural grandeur. 

And it still has some distance to travel, notably in several places where buildings are deteriorating through neglect. 

That is an issue that needs to be tackled.

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