Top-down national policy’s freshwater protections enshrined in regional plan

New provisions protecting natural inland wetlands, rivers and fish passages are now enshrined in the Otago Regional Council’s Water for Otago regional plan.

Unlike a plan change, or variation, which councillors would see and approve, the regional plan amendment was required by the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020, the council strategy and planning committee heard yesterday.

As soon as the new national policy statement came into effect last September, consent staff had to have regard to it, committee co-chairwoman Kate Wilson said.

This week’s change was a formal process, and the merits of the provisions were not open for debate, she said.

"Putting it in the water plan means that the person reading it as an applicant will understand that that’s the process," Cr Wilson said.

"This is a regulatory process of making our documents up to speed."

However, due to councillor concerns about the changes to the region’s freshwater rules, council policy, science and strategy general manager Gwyneth Elsum said the council’s science team was spending time to build an understanding of the implications of the new provisions, including an understanding of where fish passages would be expected to be, and the implications of the new definition of wetlands.

Council policy and planning manager Anita Dawe said the council was required to add the provisions to an operative plan as soon as it could.

The Otago Regional Council had asked to include the new changes in its water plan in
2023, when its replacement land and water regional plan was due to be in place, but was given direction by the courts that
2023 would amount to an undue delay, Ms Dawe said.

The new national policy statement for freshwater management provides councils with updated direction on how they should manage freshwater under the Resource Management Act.

It came into force on September 3 last year.

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