ORC working for smooth renewal of water permits

The Otago Regional Council acknowledges it faces a challenge over water permits. PHOTO: ODT FILES
The Otago Regional Council acknowledges it faces a challenge over water permits. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Otago Regional Council chief executive Sarah Gardner responds to criticism over the council's handling of the renewal of water permits. 

Water is the Otago Regional Council's No1 priority and we are making substantive progress in this area.

Sarah Gardner.
Sarah Gardner.
As an organisation, we are making positive changes to ensure we are structured and organised the right way to deliver on our priority areas and are fit for purpose. The review into our consenting function, which has been the subject of some recent commentary, is a part of that.

Consenting changes all the time, based on legislative reform, the implementation of new policies and plans, national direction and case law.

It is prudent that any consenting function regularly evaluates how it is positioned against current best practice and ensures that its staff have the opportunity to grow their knowledge and capability.

Our review was about recognising where we do well and responding to those areas where we need to improve, framed in the knowledge that we have a large water-based workload for the organisation in consents, compliance and policy.

We know we face a challenge in regard to deemed permits. These historical permits arose from 19th-century mining operations and will expire in 2021, unless they are either surrendered, or replaced by updated consents under the Resource Management Act.

To meet this workload we have appointed a new consents manager who has substantial regional council-based experience, including in water permits. We have created a regulatory group inside ORC to ensure that our consenting and compliance functions are more integrated. In both teams we are currently working on recruiting more resources to ensure we have the capacity we need. We have engaged the professional services of a local firm highly experienced and nationally regarded in water matters.

We do not consider any delay to the replacement of deemed water permits is necessary and we do not share the concerns of others about our ability to respond to the work coming.

It should be acknowledged that this is not a new issue. Consents can come in anytime and, in fact, we have been processing deemed permit replacements for some time now.

From a starting number of well over 1000, there are approximately 345 permits left, this includes deemed permits that are likely to be replaced; deemed permits that are not likely to be replaced; and deemed permits that have obtained a replacement consent but have not yet surrendered their deemed permit.

We are mindful that the Minister for the Environment has said publicly that he has no appetite for extending deemed permit terms beyond the 30 years of grandfathering they have already had in the Resource Management Act.

Instead, we all must roll up our collective sleeves and respond to the work ahead.

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