The Minister’s decision means that the Water Permits Plan Change and the Water Quality Plan Changes to the Water and Waste Plans will be referred to the Environment Court.
The Otago Regional Council has received letters from Minister for the Environment, Hon. David Parker, signalling his decision to “call in” the Water Permits Plan Change and Water Quality Plan Changes (formerly “omnibus”) and refer them to the Environment Court.
The Council voted on 26 February to write to the Minister and formally request the plan changes be called in, due to the need for them to be completed in a timely manner.
ORC Chair Marian Hobbs expressed her thanks to Minister Parker for his support.
“We are grateful that the Minister has agreed with our request to call in these plan changes and refer them to the Environment Court. This will shorten the lengthy process of finalising plan changes, and deliver certainty for Otago communities much sooner.
“Minister Parker outlined in his letter to this Council last year a series of steps that are needed to implement a fit for purpose framework for freshwater management. We have been working hard to deliver these urgent steps, and the Minister’s support will now enable us to complete them as swiftly as possible.”
Minister Parker advised that he considered the plan changes to be of national significance with regard to a range of factors. His decision sought to assist ORC by allowing staff to focus on developing a new Land and Water Regional Plan (LWRP), and to avoid potential delays associated with the standard consultation process that could complicate development of the LWRP.
In light of the Minister’s direction, Council considered an amended motion from Cr Noone on Plan Change 8 and Plan Change 1 today. A majority voted in support of the motion to ask the EPA for further consultation with mandatory parties and sector representatives prior to notification. Council will propose a facilitator for that process to the EPA.
The Water Permits Plan Change, or Plan Change 7 to the Water Plan, was notified for submissions on 18 March. It provides an interim measure to give those who take freshwater from Otago waterways short-term permits based on how much water they are currently using. The Water Permits Plan Change will now be re-notified for submissions by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).
The Water Quality Plan Changes institute new provisions in Otago’s Waste and Water Plans to protect freshwater quality and align with central government regulations and policy. The EPA will now take over notification of these plan changes for submissions ahead of hearings in the Environment Court.
Cr Hobbs assured the public that the call-in decision would not diminish their ability to have their say on the plan changes.
“The public will have a chance to make submissions on the Plan Changes and to participate in hearings. Speaking at the Environment Court hearings does not require legal representation and the Court will sit in Otago.
“These plan changes are the last in the immediate work programme for managing water in Otago,” Cr Hobbs continued, “We can now turn our full attention to working with communities to continue to review and develop a new Regional Policy Statement and Land and Water Regional Plan.”