Thursday, April 25, 2024

No point rushing Taranaki freshwater rules

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A Taranaki dairy farmer and Feds board member says it would be wise to let the dust settle before making decisions and locking in additional costs for the community.
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Pressure is building to beef up Taranaki’s freshwater rules, but local Federated Farmers leaders are pushing back strongly on their regional council.

“The council needs to pump the brakes while we wait for the new Government to clarify their freshwater policy,” Taranaki Federated Farmers president Leedom Gibbs says.

“The Minister has made it clear there’s going to be a new direction of travel, so what’s the rush for Taranaki Regional Council?”

Gibbs says there’s absolutely no need for the council to “stubbornly press ahead” with implementing unworkable rules put in place by the previous Government that won’t be in place for much longer.

“If they just hit pause and wait for the new national direction, they could avoid a lot of unnecessary cost, complexity and confusion for our community,” she says.  

At a meeting on February 27, Taranaki Regional Council noted the Government’s intention to replace the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM). 

It also acknowledged that the concept of Te Mana o te Wai, which places the health of waterways ahead of other considerations like human health and economic development, was set to be ‘rebalanced’. 

Gibbs says the issue is that, although the deadline for councils to implement new freshwater rules has been pushed out until 2027, there remains a legal obligation for councils to give effect to the current NPS-FM ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’.

“That means the council – and other councils around the country – really are stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Gibbs says.

“I don’t think it makes any sense to keep spending time and money implementing rules that the new Government have very clearly signalled are going to change. 

“I’m just hoping common sense prevails and they make the right decision for our community.”

Taranaki Regional councillors are currently considering three potential courses of action.

They could continue with the current work programme and notify a new plan by the end of 2024, push that date out to mid-2025, or delay implementation until the Government has released its replacement NPS-FM.

“We’re strongly in favour of the third option because it will ensure our freshwater rules are in line with the new national direction,” says Taranaki dairy farmer and Federated Farmers board member Mark Hooper.

“I can’t see why the council would risk locking in new rules for our community that go much further and faster than is required, especially if they don’t need to. 

“Why not just wait a little bit longer and see what’s actually required by the new Government’s replacement NPS-FM before making any rash decisions with long-term implications?”

The new Government are set to replace the entire Resource Management Act (RMA), Hooper says.

“There’s a good chance we’re going to find ourselves operating under an entirely different resource management system in the very near future.

“Labour’s RMA replacement law, The Natural and Built Environment Act, has already been repealed and a new framework is due to be introduced in the next three years. 

“That could make this rushed plan effectively redundant; it would need to be completely rewritten. 

“The council would be wise to let the dust settle before making decisions and locking in additional costs for our community.”

He says Taranaki Regional Council is already signalling an eye-watering rate increase of 16.3%.

“You’d think the council would be keen to avoid adding to those rising costs going through planning processes that will turn out to be a waste of time.”

Gibbs says while everyone wants to see improved water quality, earlier consultation rounds by the council tended to lead responses towards faster action.

“The consultation I attended was like a funnel. No matter what you wanted to say, everything pointed to better environmental outcomes.

“There was no real opportunity to talk about other considerations, like the economic impact it could have on our community, potential job losses, or the future of farming in the region.

“That’s outrageous when you think of the importance of agriculture to our regional economy.”

She says considerable goodwill between the farming community and regional council has been eroded these past few years, along with local democracy.

“Federated Farmers says there’s much more work needed on that community capital before a new freshwater plan is implemented. 

“That includes making sure the community truly understand the economic implications of environmental change, and that they’re empowered to develop local solutions at a catchment level.”

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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