Concern at short consultation time

A short time frame for consultation on the Government's planned changes to freshwater management has been criticised by Otago and Southland iwi and local government leaders.

Freshwater Reform 2013 was released on Saturday giving an April 8 deadline for submissions which because of Easter gives the public fewer than 20 working days to consider the document.

The document is considered incredibly important for Otago and Southland freshwater management in the future and not getting the time to do a full and reasoned submission was a concern for local government and iwi.

The short time frame was criticised by representatives of iwi and seven Otago and Southland councils, including the Otago Regional Council and Dunedin City Council, at a Te Roopu Taiao hui in Balclutha on Tuesday.

Environment Southland chairwoman Ali Timms, who chaired the hui, said the hasty process gave the impression the Government had no genuine interest in consulting over its reforms. Brief meetings with officials had been arranged at short notice, and Monday's two-hour meeting in Dunedin to discuss the proposed amendments to the Resource Management Act had been cut short by half an-hour.

''The collective view of the hui ... was that the Government is paying lip service to consultation,'' she said.

''The proposed changes raised very significant issues for communities in Southland and Otago, and they should have more time to consider their response.''

Te Ao Marama Inc (Ngai Tahu's resource management agency for Otago and Southland) manager Michael Skerrett said the short period of consultation was not acceptable.

''It's hopeless to try and respond adequately with this sort of time frame.''

He said he would be concerned if long-term environmental considerations were given second place to the short-term economic impacts of resource use. Otago Regional Council policy director Fraser McRae said when contacted the enormity and importance of water management to the region meant staff and councillors needed time to consider its implications.

Overall, the council was comfortable with the intent of the proposed changes - to maintain water quality where it was good and improve it where it was degraded - as it reinforced and supported what the council was doing with its water reforms.

However, it did have concerns about the detail of the reforms including unnecessary testing, which could be costly without environmental gains, and decisions being made at a national level which would be better made at a local level.

If higher values were put on retaining instream values then the system could tilt too far and end up severely limiting irrigation development, he said.

''We also disagree with the use of water conservation orders. They are redundant.''

Officials from the Ministry for the Environment were due to meet iwi and local elected representatives in Invercargill tomorrow, preceded by a public meeting at the Ascot Park Hotel. Mr Skerrett said a meeting for iwi had apparently been scheduled for late afternoon but he had no details.

Freshwater reforms
Action will be taken in three key areas:
• Planning as a community: starting by introducing a collaborative planning option as an alternative to the current system under the Resource Management Act 1991.
• A national objectives framework that requires national minimum environmental states in rivers and lakes for ecosystem health and human contact.
• Managing within water quality and quantity limits: starting by requiring councils to better account for how all water in a region is used, including how much is taken and what is discharged into it.



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