Items of interest from today's meetings of the Council's two key Committees, Consents & Regulatory, and Policy & Planning:
The Consents & Regulatory Committee and Policy & Planning Committee generally meet every six weeks, on the same day. They are made up of Regional Councillors and external members.
Fresh views of freshwater quality
Recent scientific work on freshwater quality data from Taranaki and nationwide has reached conclusions that may surprise many – but perhaps not those who keep a close eye on this region’s monitoring results. The Policy and Planning Committee was told an independent study by NIWA has found that Taranaki’s long-running riparian protection programme is not only strongly associated with improved ecological health in our waterways, but has also reduced E. coli levels. NIWA also says the improvements would put the region’s rivers and streams well above minimum European standards for recreational water quality but not those in this country’s new ‘swimmability’ regime. Meanwhile, Land Air Water Aotearoa (LAWA), a collaborative web-based venture involving central and local government and independent scientists, has published a new analysis showing water-quality improvements both nationally and regionally over the past decade have been greater than widely appreciated, though the trends have been more variable in the past five years.
Sweet smell of success
Complaints about odour from New Plymouth’s Colson Rd landfill have reduced from 20 in 2014-2015 to none so far in the current financial year, proving the effectiveness of mitigation measures taken by the New Plymouth District Council with regulatory oversight by the Taranaki Regional Council. A new fully enclosed flaring system is successfully managing methane and other landfill emissions, which had prompted the rash of complaints three years ago and enforcement action by the TRC. The NPDC has also upgraded other infrastructure at the landfill to better manage emissions. The case demonstrates “how the (Regional) Council’s approach to consent compliance monitoring and enforcement work contributed to the significant improvements made in environmental performance”, the Consents and Regulatory Committee was told.
Hear, hear for the good-quality air here
Taranaki continues to enjoy high overall air quality, achieving ‘good’ to ‘excellent’ rating in national standards, and 97% of air permit holders routinely achieve ‘high’ or ‘good’ compliance performance, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. A review of the efficiency and effectiveness of the Council’s 2011 Regional Air Quality Plan has found it is achieving its objectives, with the region’s clean air providing significant health and amenity benefits to the region. A number of potential minor tweaks for the future were identified in the review – mainly the result of new legislation and/or to refine or improve provisions of the plan. The Committee was told these could be incorporated in a full plan review due in 2021.
Town and country more united than divided
A national survey on New Zealanders’ views of rural New Zealand and the primary sector has found that city-dwellers and country-dwellers are more in agreement than much media commentary may suggest, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. In town and country, the top environmental issue is seen as water quality (rural 53%, urban 47%) with recognition that farmers are moving to address this issue. Attitudes to dairy farming are also similar, with positive views (rural 50%, urban 47%) greatly outweighing negative views (rural 21%, urban 25%). The Committee was told that such surveys are useful for resource management agencies such as the Council when engaging with their communities.
Forestry requirements noted
New national environmental directives covering plantation forestry will need to be noted and acknowledged in the Council’s plans and rules on freshwater, soil and air, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. The Government’s new National Environment Standards for Plantation Forestry take effect from 1 May for local bodies and include comprehensive requirements covering planting, pruning, earthworks, river crossings, quarrying, harvesting, land contouring and replanting. The Committee was told that the Council’s own resource management plans are effects-based, not activity-based, and many rules will need small amendments to note that where a relevant forestry activity is covered by the Government’s standards, the national directives take precedence. The only exceptions are the Regional Fresh Water Plan’s protections for wetlands and for the Stony River catchment, which take precedence over the national standards.