Difficulties implementing a High Court decision and the need to pull science staff away to deal with drought-related tasks have contributed to the Otago Regional Council’s decision on Wednesday to seek an extension of a further six months to publicly notify its proposed Land and Water Regional Plan.
The plan is being developed in partnership with mana whenua and is set within a new legislative freshwater framework directed by central Government.
“Our priority is to do the job properly. While nobody is pleased notification of the plan will take longer than anticipated there are compelling reasons why this extension request makes sense, and they all point back to a more robust outcome. Ultimately the plan needs to be worthy of and reflect the high value Otago people place on our important waterways,” said Council Chair Gretchen Robertson.
In a report discussed by council within a public excluded meeting on Wednesday night, the Council authorised Council Chair Gretchen Robertson to write to Environment Minister David Parker in coming days to request a six-month time extension from December 2023 to the end of June 2024.
“Following Judge Skelton’s review last year, the judge noted that early 2023 would be the time to consider any timing ramifications of the High Court decision splitting the Regional Policy Statement, and to keep him updated with progress,” she said.
Since that time the council has encountered challenges in developing the proposed plan – which ORC, Kāi Tahu, and communities and stakeholders acknowledge is needed to improve freshwater management for Otago.
“Alongside Kāi Tahu the council completed Round 2 consultation with a healthy response from communities across Otago last year. However, the implications of the recent High Court decision on how freshwater plans like this should be dealt with has challenged staff trying to progress our Regional Policy Statement (RPS) and these challenges will be amplified for the Land and Water plan,” Chair Robertson said.
The proposed RPS provides overarching direction on resource management for Otago, and in turn informs the Land and Water Regional Plan.
“Specifically, we are challenged by the High Court declaration around application of s80A of the Resource Management Act, that determines what a freshwater instrument is. This will, as currently drafted, require the proposed LWRP to be split into freshwater and non-freshwater components and go through separate hearings processes,” she said.
“Consultation with the community and stakeholders has also become more complex due to the dual hearing process for the RPS and the resources required from all parties to engage in these separate processes.
“Moreover, we received comprehensive and highly useful information during our last consultation round. To do justice to this feedback we need time to consider it fully to ensure the LWRP is clear for our communities and makes a difference for our waterways”.
ORC also needs time to return to communities for a final consultation round which subject to an extension being granted will occur later in 2023.
Drought conditions in Otago have resulted in four Science staff being redeployed from the Land and Water Plan programme to support the ORC response to this. If MPI officially declares a drought in Otago, more staff may require redeployment to support ORC’s ongoing role.
The Council considered options other than applying for an extension. However, considering all factors, believed the overall quality of the provisions and the status of a new Land and Water Regional Plan should not be compromised.
“We didn’t want to cut back consultation and it doesn’t make sense to complete parts of the plan and revisit missing parts later,” she said.
ORC will be one of the first regional councils to notify a Land and Water Regional Plan under the Government’s new National Policy Statement on Freshwater. This was a commitment the council made to the Minister for the Environment to be first ‘cab off the rank’ ahead of the deadline of 31 December 2024 that other Councils have.
“Given the vital importance to New Zealand of this task, and as we are custodians of our waterways together with iwi and communities, we want to get this right for our future.
“We need a notified plan that is durable, and which will usher in new rules and regulations to safeguard and nurture our rivers and lakes on behalf of our communities. Ensuring we honour Te mana o te wai - which means putting the health of Otago’s streams, rivers and lakes first, is our number one priority, next to the communities that rely on them to survive.”
The request for an extension will ask for notification of the Plan to move from December this year, out to June 2024.
If the extension of time is agreed by the Minister, clear information and timelines around the adjusted LWRP workplan will be shared in due course.