Appellants want water and land plan clarity

Bernadette Hunt
Bernadette Hunt
Clarity is being sought on a proposed environmental plan that may have nationwide ramifications for farmers.

Appeals for the proposed Southland Water and Land Plan’s fifth interim decision have been lodged at the High Court by Environment Southland (ES), Federated Farmers, DairyNZ and Fonterra.

Released in late December last year, the decision follows several years of hearings, mediation, and expert advice and seeks to address activities known to have a significant effect on water quality, such as land use intensification, urban discharges, wintering and stock access to waterways.

It will also give direction and guidance on the sustainable use, development and protection of land and water resources.

Appeals by Federated Farmers and ES focus on section 70 of the Resource Management Act (RMA), relating to Rule 24 of the proposed Southland Water and Land Plan, which provides for incidental discharges from farming activities.

The appeal from ES focuses on a legal clarification in the rule, while Federated Farmers’ appeal is on its broader context.

Federated Farmers vice-president Bernadette Hunt said the consequences of the rule would make "pretty much all farming in Southland" require resource consents, which could set a nationwide precedent.

"It’s extremely worrying from both a farming and economic perspective ... The bar to gain a resource consent would be extremely high, and we have doubts about whether it’s achievable. The implications are huge."

ES general manager policy and government reform Lucy Hicks said there was an error in the interpretation of Rule 24, which was the basis of its appeal.

"We essentially have asked the High Court to provide some clarity around how section 70 should be applied, and then to determine whether or not the judge’s interpretation of it is, in fact, erroneous or not."

She said the consequences of how the judge had interpreted the rule could be widespread.

"The RMA section doesn’t allow for contaminants to be discharged into a waterway, where there is a clear line in terms of evidential basis for that contamination — basically you can’t continue to discharge in a situation where you know there’s contamination, but [Rule 24] is structured in such a way that you have to abide by certain conditions before you would be undertaking that kind of discharge."

She said the way the judge had interpreted the structure of the rule meant there could be no conditions attached, as in an activity where it was known that discharges would have an effect on the quality of water.

The interim decision could have significant implications for consenting in Southland and also across the country. The decision would require further consideration by the High Court to provide clarity and certainty for councils and communities, she said.

The remaining elements of the proposed plan appeals will continue in the Environment Court, while the Rule 24 matter is on hold.

Environment Southland’s appeal is not challenging the Environment Court’s findings on the state of the environment or the causes of degradation to water bodies.

Fonterra and DairyNZ said they were unable to comment on the nature of their appeals while the matter was before the court.


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