Items of interest from today's meetings of the Taranaki Regional Council's two key committees, Consents & Regulatory, and Policy & Planning:
Coastal Plan in clearer sight
The review of the Regional Coastal Plan is nearing completion and a proposed new document will formally notified for public consultation early in the New Year, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. As part of the review, the Council sought comments and feedback on an initial draft, and officers have been working through the issues that were raised. The Committee was told that good progress has been made in identifying coastal sites of significance to iwi, so that appropriate recognition can be incorporated into the new Plan, and so that Iwi can be involved when decisions are made on activities that may impact on the sites. This has been a lengthy and intricate process for Iwi and Council officers, and discussions are continuing. Iwi would have opportunity for further site information input during the formal consultation period.
Auditors test the waters
A new national audit of freshwater management by the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) is an opportunity to highlight progress being made in Taranaki, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. The OAG is auditing Taranaki and three other regional councils to assess progress in managing impacts on freshwater quality. This follows an initial audit in 2011 which concluded that freshwater quality is being maintained in Taranaki, and possibly enhanced in places, and which also made no specific recommendations to this Council but did for the others. The current audit includes an extensive self-assessment exercise, interviews with Council people and key stakeholders, site visits and, possibly, independent scientific assessment. The Council has already provided information on its monitoring programmes, compliance rates, and regulatory and non-regulatory developments including the riparian programme and releasing a new educational document detailing the Council’s requirements for good farm management. The OAG’s new report will be released next year.
Climate change has had a patchy and relatively minor impact on Taranaki’s weather so far but the Council is factoring possible future changes into its work, particularly around flood protection, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. Data in the new Ministry for the Environment (MfE) report, Our Atmosphere and Climate 2017, shows that Taranaki has seen little change in Taranaki’s temperature trends. Sunshine hours and wind speeds in North Taranaki have increased, while winter rainfall has decreased and severe weather events have become fewer and less intense. South Taranaki has seen an increase in spring rainfall. The Committee was told that the Resource Management Act explicitly excludes the Council from climate change regulation, but future likely consequences, particularly for rainfall, are being factored into plans and projects, most notably the recent upgrades to the Waitara and Lower Waiwhakaiho flood control schemes. Central Government regulation includes measures such as the emissions trading regime. The Committee was also told that like others in the MfE’s series of ‘environmental domain reports’, this latest document sets out problems and issues without any reference to whether or how they are being addressed. Thus it may give a misleading impression of what is actually happening in the natural environment.
Changes in the wind
Potentially significant changes to environmental management may be expected following the change of Government, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. Developments in the next three years could have important implications for local government but the detail is yet to emerge, the Committee was told. Changes to climate policy at the national level, or in specific sectors, such as forestry and agriculture, would have flow-on effects for Taranaki, and any changes to the freshwater management regime would need to be assessed before the Council recommits to notifying its review of the Regional Fresh Water Plan. Meanwhile, changes to the Resource Management Act have been a constant source of frustration for all parties over many years and pressure for further changes may well reappear within the next three years.