Plan work to cost ratepayers $2.6m over 3 years

The annual budget for work on the West Coast’s new district plan is heading for the $1million mark, and the project will cost ratepayers at least $2.6million over the next three years.

Planners managing the workload for Te Tai o Poutini Plan submitted cost estimates this week of $962,500 for the year ahead.

West Coast councils have no choice but to forge ahead with the project, after the Local Government Commission decreed the Westland, Grey and Buller district plans should be rolled into a single document.

The West Coast Regional Council has been charged with administering the process, and given the power to rate to fund it — but has so far avoided doing so. The budget for the 2021-22 year includes $250,000 for planners’ salaries; $85,000 for a consultant planner; $50,000 for Poutini Ngai Tahu planning input; and $295,000 for research.

Much of the research involves identifying significant natural areas (SNAs) and wetlands on public and private land throughout the West Coast, to meet the Government’s new environmental policy requirements.

The cost was not unreasonable for the amount of work involved, regional council chairman Allan Birchfield said.

‘‘There’s not much we can do about it — the council will just have to borrow to fund it and spread the cost over 10 years in the rates and try to make it as painless as possible.’’

However, that would not be the end of the expense, Cr Birchfield said.

‘‘Once we’ve notified the plan, you’d be living in a fool’s paradise if you think it won’t end up in the Environment Court — every man and his dog will want to appeal it, and there’ll be court costs to come.’’

The budget for the first year was set at $650,000 and increased by $73,000 last year to $723,000 to ensure SNA research could begin. But because of the Covid crisis, the budget was cut back again to $692,000 so the regional council could achieve its zero rate increase target.

The committee is aiming to have the new district plan out for community consultation by April 2022, and notified by the end of June 2023.

Estimated costs for the next year are $926,333 and for the final year, 2023-24, they reduce to $784,833.

Overall, the work was going well, Cr Birchfield said.

‘‘The planners are listening to us — they come up with their proposals for the new planning rules, we tell them what we think and they change the rules in line with our feedback.’’

- Lois Williams, Local democracy reporter

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