Environmental services changes

Cameron Mcintosh
Cameron Mcintosh
Changes are coming to the Southland District Council and its environmental services department.

Council chief executive Cameron McIntosh said in a press release on Thursday the pressing issue was the low staff numbers in the environmental consent team and this was exacerbated by a lack of experienced planners for the jobs the council had.

"To help address these issues council are already making changes. We are in the process of appointing a panel of suitably qualified consultants to ensure we can move through the backlog of consent applications and start moving forward," he said.

The council has appointed Daniel Kinnoch to lead the resource consent team through the changes. He was a principal planner at Auckland Council, and has led many process improvement initiatives, including digital consenting, reports, templates, practice and guidance.

He now has his own planning company.

New council group manager regulatory services Adrian Humphries will start on December 18 and will head the group’s business improvement work.

Mr Humphries is coming from the Tasman District Council, where he was regulatory and recovery manager. He has worked in the regulatory arm of local government for the past 17 years.

The council resolved at its last meeting to implement 12 recommendations from the review of the handling of the Environment Court case against Te Anau Downs Station and a draft implementation plan has been created.

Alongside that, an internal steering group will be appointed by the chief executive to manage the delivery of the plan, which has funding of $600,000 from the council’s district operating reserve so there will be no impact on rates.

Three of the recommendations have been identified as urgent.

They are about providing better information to landowners so they can understand the land-use activities enabled or not enabled under the district plan.

The budget for compliance monitoring and enforcement is to increase and will enhance council capability to implement RMA requirements.

The biodiversity aspects will be more focused in the district plan and there will be an emphasis on how this will affect the clearance of indigenous vegetation.

Mr McIntosh acknowledged while the biodiversity standard was passed this year, the new government had clearly indicated it would be changing that.

"This highlights another problem for all councils as we can see by the 100-day plan of government that the new Acts that replaced the Resource Management Act are going to be repealed, as are some of the national standards, but we don’t know with what,” he said.

Other recommendations have short to medium-term actions required while others are already under way.

Mr McIntosh said the plan was to bring everything together to manage as one to ensure nothing fell between the cracks; that there were enough staff to do the incoming work; and that key stakeholders could see incremental change as things progressed.

"We know we have a big challenge ahead of us but we already have some significant actions under way and we are working together to improve our customer service,” he said.