Overlay change pleases farmers

Cows graze on a Duntroon farm which would have been restricted by zone changes in the new...
Cows graze on a Duntroon farm which would have been restricted by zone changes in the new district plan. PHOTO: WYATT RYDER
Farmers worried about the Waitaki District Council placing environmental restrictions on their property can now relax a little.

A group of Waitaki farmers have been protesting about land being considered as an outstanding natural landscape (ONL) in the new district plan draft, but the subcommittee in charge has moved to remove the classification from any land modified for agricultural or industrial use.

The classification, called an overlay, would have been placed on an additional 5% of freehold land in the district, restricting activities such as intensive farming and forestry.

Vocal critic and Duntroon farmer Otto Dogterom, who is also the Federated Farmers North Otago dairy chairman, has been emailing councillors and attending the public subcommittee meetings since December.

He expected 85% of his farm would have been covered by the classification, which he believed could drop the value of his two properties by up to $4 million.

Mr Dogterom said he was happy with the move and it was "a pretty good compromise".

"It’s really restored my trust in local democracy a bit."

There was still more he would like to see changed in the plan, specifically relating to the high country, but he was happy changes were being made.

"We’re travelling in the right direction."

Some properties were still being affected by other overlays, such as significant natural areas, but now was the time to be patient, he said.

The subcommittee is chaired by councillor Jim Thomson, who said it was encouraging to hear the move had restored faith with some members of the community.

The process was long, but they were getting through it and nothing was "locked in stone".

The subcommittee had to be very specific with the document, as it would not be the same group of councillors and staff looking at the document in 20 years time, he said.

"At the end of the day we’re all there to make Waitaki as successful as it can be."

The plan must be compliant with the Resource Management Act and the question of whether overlays could be removed without the council being taken to the Environment Court has been a point of discussion for many months.

In the meeting, Cr Jim Hopkins criticised the lack of regard for economic wellbeing factored into the assessment of the overlays, which is required.

"It hasn’t happened, it didn’t happen.

"Our landscape architects told us expressly that they didn’t take economic considerations into account in assessing outstanding natural landscapes."

Mayor Gary Kircher said he understood the intent of the ONLs, but also supported the decision to remove them.

"We’re dealing with the real world. We need to make sure our productive sector is able to produce."

Cr Hopkins, who moved the motion, said it was not a "kneejerk reaction" to public criticism, but instead was the simplest, cleanest and most effective solution to the problem, which had been under debate for months.

The plan is still in draft format and will be scrutinised further when it is formally put to councillors, followed by submissions to a hearings panel.

Despite that, councillor John McCone said it was important to fix the issues now.

"Once the plan gets notified, that’s more additional costs ... We’ve got to scrutinise it as it sits on this page and make a decision before it gets to that stage."

A council spokesman said the development process was "not a fast process, but it is a thorough one".

How much it would cost to adjust the plan with the new changes was still being determined.

Previously the council said the plan was expected to be put to councillors in April.

The spokesman said that was now unlikely and could be delayed up to six months.

Cr Thomson said it could be two years before the entire process was complete.

 - Last week Associate Environment Minister Andrew Hoggard told councils "not to bother" installing another overlay classification, Significant Natural Areas, in their plans.

He has since retracted that statement following challenges from legal experts, who said law changes had to go through parliament.

Mr Hoggard then said "if my statement has been read in a way that suggested that the change had already come into effect, this was not the intention".

wyatt.ryder@oamarumail.co.nz