Significant natural areas research funds sought

Jamie Cleine
Jamie Cleine
The council team working on a combined district plan for the West Coast will ask the Government for funding to research significant natural areas (SNAs).

The Te Tai Poutini One Plan Committee of council and iwi leaders is meeting regularly to thrash out new rules and policies for Buller, Grey and Westland councils, in a single plan.

It had previously decided to put off the work needed to identify SNAs across the region, on both DOC and private land, given the financial pressures on ratepayers and councils post-Covid.

But at its most recent meeting, Buller Mayor Jamie Cleine urged the committee to apply for funding for the research from the Government's nature-based jobs package.

"We owe it to the region to be proactive about finding alternative ways to fund this, because the work is going to have to be done. And at the moment the only tool seems to be we turn to the regional council and clobber the same people yet again for another rate," Mr Cleine said.

The West Coast Regional Council has been instructed by the Local Government Commission to oversee the one plan work, and strike a rate to fund it.

The project is costing at least $500,000 a year.

"By delaying the beginning of the SNA analysis process, we are adding another year to this (plan) project at a cost of half a million dollars," Mr Cleine said.

"So given the recent budget announcement around the DOC-led nature-based jobs package, is there not an opportunity to apply for some of that money to fund the SNA research?"

He said $150,000 would fund the initial desktop exercise, and follow-up ground-truthing.

Cr Laura Coll-McLaughlin, of Westport, said the Government might be wary of paying for work that it could then be dragged into funding elsewhere.

"I would emphasise that a lot of this money is going into DOC, and a lot of these [SNA] areas on the Coast are on DOC land — but it's still a council cost [to do the
research]."

Buller district councillor Sharon Roche backed her mayor's suggestion.

"It's false economy to keep putting this research off. Every year we push it out it's another $500,000 for the [one plan] project.

"It's remiss of us not to look at any research required up front, rather than push it out for another year, regardless of where the money is coming from."

Grey district councillor Anton Becker said he supported the idea as long as DOC had no control over the SNA research.

Te Tai o Poutini Plan project leader and planner Jo Armstrong said she had spoken to DOC, and was told it would not be administering the fund, and regional bodies would manage it.

Westland Mayor Bruce Smith was also in favour of the Buller mayor's proposal.

"It seems like a no-brainer. It reduces costs to the ratepayer and reduces the timeframe [of the one plan project]."

The group agreed — with one exception — that the regional council should chase external funding for the SNA work.

Regional council chairman Allan Birchfield asked for his vote against the motion to be recorded.

Cr Birchfield has consistently opposed the process of identifying wetlands and SNAs unless the Government provides compensation for affected landowners.

- Lois Williams

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