Monday, March 4, 2024

Gore Council must listen to farmers: Feds

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The proposed plan approach to require assessment against cultural values for consents for normal farming operations could drive conflict, Feds says.
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In the first of what will be a regular Regional Spotlight series, Federated Farmers take a closer look at farmer frustrations with aspects of the Proposed Gore District Plan. 

Sit down with farmers and work through the practicality of the Proposed District Plan.

That’s the plea to Gore District Council from Federated Farmers Southland senior vice president Bernadette Hunt.

“Federated Farmers is pleased that the council has extended the deadline for submissions by four weeks, until November 27.

“We asked for this in the interests of achieving a fit-for-purpose and balanced set of rules governing the development, environmental protection, and community wellbeing. We pointed out that the recent floods, lambing, and calving had sapped farmers’ time and energy,” Hunt says.

“Nevertheless, Federated Farmers believes the council could have done a better job of engaging the community in development of the plan to start with.”

For example, the council has taken an unusual approach to Sites and Areas of Significance to Māori, naming the entire district as a ‘site’. When consent applications are received for ‘high-risk activities’, this will trigger assessment against cultural values.

“Federated Farmers absolutely acknowledges the relationship Ngāi Tahu and local mana whenua hold with the natural environment,” Hunt says. 

“But when, by our count, there are 91 rules or standards in the proposed plan which may require an assessment against Ngāi Tahu cultural values, there’s the potential for delay, complexity and cost.  

“Is the council resourced to meet this standard, and who will be responsible for the assessments?”

The proposed plan approach to require assessment against cultural values for consents for normal farming operations could drive conflict, Hunt says. 

“It regulates and restricts even the most minor activities.” 

Questions around Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) are fraught because the new Government may well withdraw or amend the controversial National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity, released in July.

Federated Farmers is adamant that Gore’s Proposed District Plan should include only areas mapped as an SNA.  

“We’re also urging the council to make provision in its Long-Term Plan to provide financial assistance or rates remissions for ratepayers with identified SNAs on their property.

“If it’s considered that an SNA is a community good, it’s only fair the community helps pay for the costs of fencing and maintaining that natural area,” Hunt says.

The Ecosystems and Indigenous Biodiversity, and Natural Features and Landscapes chapters in the proposed plan are arguably some of the most important and yet the Council failed to consult with landowners, who are the most impacted, Hunt says. 

“Due to the council’s lack of consultation on what is practical and feasible, some farmers are now facing limits on their ability to carry out day-to-day farming activities, as some parts of the plan are already in force.”

For example, for vehicle tracks to be a permitted activity, they can be no more than one metre wide.

Another example: the plan includes rules for indigenous vegetation clearance and land disturbance. Clearance is permitted but the restrictions are stringent.

“For clearance of indigenous vegetation for fencing only, a land disturbance width of only 1.5m is permitted,” Hunt says.

“This makes it impossible to use a tractor or machinery for fencing and implies the Council intends farmers will do this by hand, or to apply for a resource consent every time they need to carry out fencing work that requires indigenous vegetation clearance to provide enough space for the job. 

“Federated Farmers is looking forward to getting around a table with council staff, and perhaps councillors, to thrash out practical ways of achieving outcomes that are in the best interests of the district,” Hunt says.

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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