Wednesday, April 24, 2024

More unworkable regs for government to fix

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Groundswell takes aim at newly revived rules on areas of significance to Māori.
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By Jamie McFadden, Groundswell’s environmental spokesperson

Will the coalition government go far enough in fixing unworkable regulations?

That is a question on the mind of farmers. The early signs from the government have been positive, but we are nervous that they may not fully understand some of the regulations that are having a significant detrimental impact on farmers. These include Freshwater Farm Plans and Sites and Areas of Significance to Māori, regulations that Groundswell continues to receive a lot of concerns about from farmers throughout New Zealand.

One of the first of two areas to have “gone live” with Freshwater Farm Plans is Aparima, western Southland, where the community has mobilised to boycott the mandatory requirement. Groundswell continues to receive feedback from farm and environmental consultants, all of whom say the legislation has multiple flaws and is doomed to fail. 

Recently we were contacted on behalf of Marlborough farmers concerned that their council is ploughing ahead with the Freshwater Farm Plans. Farmers assumed the Freshwater Farm Plans were paused along with the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management, but it appears not.

If the coalition government is continuing with the Freshwater Farm Plan regulation, it is accepting a Labour Party doctrine that is heavy on state control and widely opposed by farmers. That would undoubtedly raise the ire of farmers. 

Groundswell supports integrated farm plans that empower farmers in responsible environmental management. But for any farm plan system to succeed it must have the buy-in of farmers. For this reason alone, Labour’s Freshwater Farm Plan regulations must be repealed.

Sites and Areas of Significance to Māori (SASM) has recently reared its head in many districts across NZ. This policy stems from the same legislation as Significant Natural Areas (SNA) – Section 6 of the Resource Management Act. However, despite being in the RMA for over 30 years, it has only recently started to roll out.

In the Timaru district over 50% of the district has been classified SASM, affecting over 4000 property owners. The council in Gore went one step further, classifying the entire district as SASM. On the West Coast we received distraught calls from landowners who had entire properties classified SASM with no consultation – and the rules took immediate effect. 

Urban property owners were impacted too. In Greymouth many properties owned by a Māori trust were sold because they were deemed to be of no cultural value – only for the council to subsequently classify them as SASM.

The government has paused SNA, principally because of concerns over how the policy rides roughshod over property owners and their rights. Given SASM come from the same flawed legislation as SNA and have the same impact, it stands to reason that they should also be paused, along with other Section 6 classifications including landscapes and wetlands.

Groundswell supports the need for landowners to care for cultural and natural values on their land. Environmental groups, iwi and successive governments have failed to recognize that the current RMA classification regulations penalises landowners with these values on their land and turns the values into a liability. 

Our Groundswell solution proposes an approach like the QEII covenants, where these values are assets and landowners are supported and empowered to look after the values.

We applaud the coalition government reversing Labour’s ill-conceived RMA reforms along with the ute tax and Three Waters. However, we urge it to take a closer look at all unworkable regulations. 

Groundswell views this coalition government as the best opportunity in decades to deliver environmental legislation that protects natural and cultural values while respecting the rights of property owners. 

It is time for leadership that is brave and bold and has both the environment and peoples’ best interests at heart.

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