Saturday, April 13, 2024

Otago Feds urge council to pause draft plan

Avatar photo
Federated Farmers urging Otago Regional Council to hit pause on poor land and water plans.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Otago Regional Council needs to read the room and hit pause on its poorly drafted plan for managing land and water resources, Federated Farmers say.

The organisation’s Otago president Luke Kane says councillors need to do the right thing by ratepayers when they vote in March on whether to implement the Land and Water Regional Plan this June. 

“Central Government have made it very clear there are going to be significant changes to the timelines and direction. Otago Regional Council (ORC) should be taking note of that and delaying their plan,” Kane says.

“It would be completely irresponsible of them to keep pushing ahead with the plan in its current form. It will just lead to needless cost and confusion for farmers, farming families and rural communities.

“As it’s currently written, the plan would severely limit our ability to continue farming in the Otago region.”

ORC has been working on its controversial Land and Water Plan for five years and was due to notify it – when many parts would take effect – at the end of June. 

The plan is designed to meet the previous Government’s National Policy Statement on Freshwater 2020 (NPS-FM), but Kane says the plan goes much further than is required. 

The new Government is also moving quickly to replace the NPS-FM with what it says will be “pragmatic and sensible freshwater rules”, due to be completed in 18 to 24 months.

This will involve rebalancing Te Mana o te Wai (mana of the water), a concept that’s central to the NPS-FM.

Kane says although Cabinet has extended the deadline for councils to implement freshwater plans from the end of 2024 to the end of 2027, that’s only useful if ORC accepts it.

“It’s obvious to ratepayers that nothing more should happen with this draft plan until we have clear direction on freshwater from the new Government.

“Why would ORC bring a new plan into place that’ll need to be overhauled in a couple of years, costing ratepayers even more money?”

He says he and other farmers are frustrated ORC councillors didn’t vote in favour of delaying the plan at a meeting on February 21. 

“That’s very disappointing but we’re hopeful they’ll vote for postponement when they meet again at the end of March.” 

Kane says, contrary to what environmental groups are saying, farmers aren’t opposing the plan because they don’t care about water quality. 

“Farmers aren’t wanting to destroy the environment; we just want a practical and science-based approach that will work. 

“We’re not disputing we need good environmental outcomes, but we need to see a way forward that will allow us to continue farming.” 

He says once the problems with Te Mana o te Wai are worked out by the Government, the rest will fall into place. 

“The ORC’s interpretation of Te Mana o te Wai is heavily one-sided towards looking after the health and wellbeing of water.

“It’s completely imbalanced and puts the health of the water before all other considerations – including human health, community needs, or economic development.”

Another farmer disappointed that councillors haven’t already put the draft plan on ice is Simon Davies, a sheep and beef farmer at Toko Mouth, near Milton.

Former Federated Farmers Otago president Simon Davies says Otago’s plan has a long way to go before it’ll be practical and sustainable, both environmentally and financially.

He’s also holding onto hope that the March vote will end in the right result. 

“The impression I’ve been given is that the councillors are expecting to delay it in March. I guess time will tell.”  

Davies, a former Federated Farmers Otago president, says the draft plan as it stands is entirely unachievable. 

“It’s probably not going to make a lot of difference to water quality, but we’ll pay a huge price in an economic way.”

Like Kane, he’s deeply concerned ORC has gone much further than it’s required to by Government.  

“They’re going beyond the national stock exclusion regulations passed last year.

“The Otago region generally has good water. I acknowledge there are some specific areas that have a few issues to address, but demanding an entire region meet a standard that goes well beyond the national requirements is completely unreasonable and unnecessary for most farmers in Otago.”

Davies says potential implications for stock water limitations are also worrying him. 

“It’s a real concern because if we lose our water, we just won’t be able to farm here.”

ORC appears to be trying to control activity rather than outcome, he says.  

“The outcome is better water quality but they’re not actually trying to do that – they’re trying to control activities and assume that will improve water quality.

“This plan’s got a long way to go before it’ll be practical and sustainable, both environmentally and financially.” 

Kane and Federated Farmers North Otago president Myfanwy Alexander have written to ORC councillors imploring them to postpone implementing the Land and Water Plan.

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.

People are also reading