A National Party-led government would shake up the rules for on-farm water storage and resource consent requirements for commercial fruit and vegetable growers, it says.
Not surprisingly, the policy announcement has been welcomed by Irrigation NZ and Federated Farmers, who said the two activities have been suffocated by onerous planning rules, regulations and delays.
National’s Primary Sector Growth Plan eliminates the need for resource consent to build water storage infrastructure on land unless wetlands or significant natural areas are affected.
Councils would be required to approve or decline consent for other types of water storage within two years, with consents lasting 30 years.
The commercial growing of fruit and vegetables would become a permitted activity under the Resource Management Act and in most cases growers will not need to obtain consent to grow more food.
The party said this acknowledges the importance of the primary sector to the economy and the need to help it to grow.
Maximum penalties for breaching border biosecurity rules would be increased.
The party would eliminate the need for consent to establish wetlands, as they provide environmental benefits, capture carbon and increase biodiversity.
Federated Farmers freshwater spokesperson Colin Hurst said the water storage policy is sensible and exactly what farmers have been crying out for.
“The reality is that New Zealand is getting less water when we need it, and more when we don’t.”
He gave an example of how the system is broken.
A water storage scheme in Wakamoekau near Masterton was recently abandoned because of what he called endless red tape.
“Meanwhile, the Matawii Dam near Kaikohe has recently been completed and is beginning to fill with water.
“The difference between these two schemes? The Matawii project was granted a ministerial fast-track.”
Irrigation NZ chief executive Vanessa Winning said water storage has been stymied by complex consenting processes, and this policy would encourage investment while still protecting important environmental assets.
“Consenting processes under the current RMA interpretation and the upcoming Natural Build and Environment Bill are expensive, onerous, and for a timeframe that wouldn’t see payback of the initial investment.”
It is preventing farmers moving into high-value horticulture or crops at a time when they are being asked to do so, while impacting the ability to grow food, she said.