Consent costs dispute resolved

The community-led Waipahi Wetland project, in West Otago. PHOTO: SHANE BOCOCK/SUPPLIED
The community-led Waipahi Wetland project, in West Otago. PHOTO: SHANE BOCOCK/SUPPLIED
Unexpected and mounting costs for consents to create an environmental showpiece in South Otago led to a lengthy spat between the Otago Regional Council and the Pomahaka Water Care Group — but both sides now say the dispute has been resolved.

Consents for proposed wetlands on South Otago farmers Gerard and Ann Vallely’s Luxmore Dairies farm at Waipahi were first set to cost nearly $20,000, Pomahaka Water Care Group project manager Lloyd McCall said.

After an agreement was reached earlier this month, the cost was reduced to a fraction of the original price, he said.

Mr McCall said the group had agreed not to reveal the final cost.

But the catchment group now had greater clarity about the costs associated with obtaining resource consents from the regional council.

And it would also begin to lobby the council to incentivise environmentally friendly projects, Mr McCall said.

Waipahi Wetland was planned as a restoration of 9ha of drained wetlands to as near as possible to what was there 50 years ago.

The farmers gave the land over to the Pomahaka Water Care Group to create 5ha of wetlands and 4ha of a "biodiversity area", or bush.

Boardwalks were being installed and the wetlands and forested area was designed as an educational tool for others as much as a freshwater filter.

Then, as the consenting process became "a bit convoluted", the cost of the consent crept up without the applicants’ knowledge, Mr McCall said.

"We were shocked when we got the big bill, put it that way," he said.

"We didn’t know it was coming."

After the group complained, the council discounted the price, reducing the cost to $12,000, he said.

The group remained unsatisfied and pursued a hearing to resolve the matter.

However, days before the scheduled hearing, the council negotiated a new amount.

It was "well south" of the original amount, Mr McCall said.

Council regulatory and communications general manager Richard Saunders said he would not comment on the "opinion" the process had taken months longer and cost thousands of dollars more than it should have.

While there were aspects of the process that the council acknowledged could have been improved, many of those changes were already implemented.

The council was satisfied that the level of information required to process the application was appropriate given the scale and complexity of the project, he said.

Most of the issues centred around the communication of costs during the consent process, Mr Saunders said.

"We acknowledge the environmental benefit of this project and the work from both the landowners and the [water care group] to deliver it," Mr Saunders said.

"We have appreciated the opportunity to work through the issues with [water care group] members as a way to improve the service we offer not just catchment groups but all of our customers."

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