Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Environment Canterbury rates and pillages

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Call for Central Government to urgently step in to force a pause on changes to regional freshwater rules until new national policy direction are confirmed.
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Farmers could be staring down the barrel of a whopping 24.2% rates hike as Environment Canterbury pushes ahead with premature and expensive changes to local freshwater rules.

Federated Farmers vice president Colin Hurst says such a steep increase in rates is completely unpalatable for local farmers already struggling with reduced incomes and increased costs.

A component of the increase is millions of dollars to be spent on planning processes. 

“It’s pretty hard to stomach councils having to plough ahead, spending money they don’t have, on a new freshwater plan they won’t need. It’s a total waste of ratepayers’ money.

“The plan they’re working on is based on the direction of the previous Government’s fatally flawed National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM).

“We all know the new Government are in the process of making significant changes to the NPS-FM policy that will have huge implications for regional councils.

“Unfortunately, while the law still sits on the books, councils are technically required to keep shovelling money out the door on the plan changes to implement it.” 

The rates increase is proposed as part of Environment Canterbury’s (ECan) draft work plan for the next 10 years.  

ECan’s preferred $346.3m work package for the first year (2024/25) would require a 24.2% increase in revenue collected from rates.

Hurst says, at a time when council finances are already stretched, they shouldn’t keep sending good money after bad pursuing a freshwater plan that will never be implemented. 

“Central Government needs to urgently step in to force a pause on changes to regional freshwater rules until the details of the new national policy direction are confirmed.”

The new coalition Government has pushed out the deadline for NPS-FM compliance from 2024 to 2027 and pledged to replace it with rules that are much more practical. 

Hurst says these local government planning and consultation processes are very expensive and swallow up a huge amount of council staff time and resources.

“It’s not just the council who end up spending big dollars either – it’s organisations like Federated Farmers who end up having to fight this stuff on behalf of our members. 

“As a farmer and a ratepayer, I find it infuriating to see such wasteful spending from the council at a time when so many in our community are struggling to keep a lid on their own budgets. 

“To make matters worse, these changes are only going to make farming more difficult and expensive, completely undermining food production and farmers’ livelihoods.”

He says Canterbury already has a sound and community-agreed Land and Water Plan and sub-regional environment and freshwater plans – and it’s working. 

“Not everyone was happy with that plan at the time, but you know the old adage: if there’s a little bit of grumpiness from all sides, then you’ve probably landed in the right place.” 

The bad news for Canterbury ratepayers is the proposed 24.2% rate hike in 2024/25, probably the highest in the country, is not a one-off jump, Hurst says.  

The council is also proposing 13.6% and 8.3% increases in the subsequent years. 

Consultation runs from March 13 until April 14, and Hurst says members can trust that Federated Farmers will be making a strong submission on their behalf. 

Under the proposed plan, ECan’s expenditure on environmental regulation and protection services would leap from $111m in the current year to $135m in 2024/25. 

Most of that increase would be incurred in regulatory framework costs, consenting and compliance, and no extra spending on pest management or indigenous biodiversity.

Federated Farmers Mid Canterbury president David Acland says while the federation has still to do a full analysis of ECan’s 301-page plan, farmers may not have a quibble with the council’s plans to lift spending on flood control and river resilience work by $10m to a total of $36m in 2024/25.  Spending on this would rise to $43m a year by 2033/34.

The intention is to move to a two-tier model of funding flood protection work, with a district-wide rate reflecting the fact that the entire community benefits from taming rivers when they flood, plus a targeted rate on land that directly benefits from particular flood protection projects.

“I’ve heard talk that councillors want to address blockages and cost areas that hamper ECan’s river teams from getting work done,” Acland says.

“It’s been estimated that for every dollar ECan collects to spend on rivers, 60 cents is spent on consenting, compliance, monitoring and reporting thanks to requirements imposed by central government and lobbying by NGOs.

“Farmers would much rather see a higher percentage of those dollars going on actual physical works that protect people and property from flooding.”

Federated Farmers, New Zealand’s leading independent rural advocacy organisation, has established a news and insights partnership with AgriHQ, the country’s leading rural publisher, to give the farmers of New Zealand a more informed, united and stronger voice. Feds news and commentary appears each week in its own section of the Farmers Weekly print edition and online.

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