West Coast mayors seek Govt funding for district plan

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta. Photo: Beehive.govt.nz
Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta. Photo: Beehive.govt.nz
West Coast mayors and chairs have written to Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta asking the Government to help fund the combined district plan being drafted for the Coast.

The plan was ordered by the Local Government Commission but is costing more than $600,000 this year.

The commission provided a one-off payment of $200,000, but already the Te Tai o Poutini Committee is juggling a $250,000 shortfall.

Although the West Coast Regional Council has the power to rate for the cost it has chosen not to, saying West Coast ratepayers are in no position to pay more, especially since the Covid downturn.

Instead, it has agreed to borrow as needed to fund the work.

In a letter to the minister the Coast leaders say the region has a small rating base, with limited avenues of funding available to it.

 

"With a population of about 32,000, a 1% rate increase generates just $34,000, presenting challenges for the regional council to fund competing demands."

Those demands included new workloads heaped on councils by the freshwater, biodiversity and hazards management reforms, on top of business as usual.

"We are up for the challenge … (but) we need to find means of sustainably funding it."

Funded properly, Te Tai o Poutini Plan could deliver on the Government ambitions and set an example of robust, forward-thinking planning at regional level, the regional leaders said.

One of the major costs coming up for the council will be the research and mapping needed to identify and map significant natural areas (SNAs) to meet new biodiversity rules imposed by the Government.

The plan committee has just let a contract for $75,000 for an initial desktop study of potential SNAs but each site - and there are potentially thousands on the West Coast - will also have to be physically checked for its ecological value.

The Coast leaders have also told Ms Mahuta they want an economic impact assessment done of SNAs to gauge the opportunity
cost of protection versus development.

The plan project leader Jo Armstrong said the Local Government Commission had refused to contribute any further, after giving an initial grant: "The costs include the three planning staff, research, legal and expert advice, some travel and public consultation, and it's important to get this right, otherwise the plan is open to legal challenge."

Ending up in the Environment Court would cost "a couple of million dollars", as opposed to a few hundred thousand invested now, Ms Armstrong said.

By Lois Williams
Local democracy reporter

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