Items of interest from this week’s meetings of the Council’s two key committees, Consents & Regulatory, and Policy & Planning:
More clarity on wetlands
The Council has welcomed a Government move to amend and clarify its new wetlands regulations to remove unanticipated barriers to habitat restoration work and other nearby activities that pose no environmental threat. The Policy & Planning Committee discussed a draft submission that generally supports the proposed amendments subject to minor changes to ensure they will result in robust and practicable measures that avoid perverse environmental outcomes. The Committee was told that when the new regulations came into force last year, significant issues were immediately apparent around their interpretation and implementation. For example, they put limits on pest management and restoration planting activities around and near wetlands. They also imposed an unnecessary total ban on some development activities nearby - the amendments would create a possibility for such activities if appropriate conditions were imposed and adhered to. The proposed amendments to not change the intent of the regulations, particularly the aim to protect remaining wetlands, the Committee was told.
Winter grazing rules tweaked
Proposed changes to new Government requirements around intensive winter grazing will address many concerns and make implementation simpler and more effective, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. The new regulations were announced last year but are yet to come into force. The Government now proposes a number of changes including a more practical measure for slope requirements, a recognition that pugging is less of an environmental risk than previously thought, and an easing of resowing-date requirements to reflect vagaries in weather patterns. The regulations have also been deferred and will not be in force until the winter of 2023, giving farmers more time to prepare. The Committee was told that Council officers had provided positive feedback during a consultation period.
Nationwide approach to wellsite decommissioning
The Council has welcomed a Government move to bring oil and gas well decommissioning into a national regulatory framework. Decommissioning requirements are currently set on a permit-by-permit basis, and they are not currently covered in the Crown Minerals Act, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. This has led to inconsistencies, which the Government plans to address with an amendment to the Act and new regulations. In its submission, the Council has supported the proposals but suggested they could be sharpened in a number of areas. These include: addressing overlaps between the CMA and RMA; tapping more directly into the Council’s own long experience in oil and gas regulation; requiring more information from companies around plans and assets; tighter checks on financial security as part of the risk assessment process; making the crown, not local communities, cover the costs of damage and remediation of ‘orphan’ wellsites; and making it easier for Councils and others to lodge financial claims against operators. The Committee was told that decommissioning is getting more attention as many oil and gas fields come to the end of their lives, and as the country starts to transition away from hydrocarbons.
Fresh look at freshwater units
The foundation stones are moving into place for Taranaki’s future freshwater management regime, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. Officers have revised proposed ‘freshwater management units’ (FMUs), which will set the region’s regulatory framework under new Government requirements. The next step is consulting tangata whenua and making any agreed changes before final FMU proposals are recommended for adoption. Councils are required to define and establish FMUs, and develop and implement appropriate freshwater rules, targets and measures for each. The Committee was told that the Government’s FMU requirements had been revised since they were initially announced in 2014, so it was timely to look again at this region’s response. The proposed new FMUs take a ‘maunga to sea’ approach, using catchment boundaries, and are based on freshwater limits and targets, rather than surrounding land-use patterns. Under this approach, Taranaki would have six FMUs. Four would be based on the areas where rivers and waterbodies rise: volcanic ring plan, coastal terraces, northern hillcountry and southern hillcountry. The other two would be the Waitara River catchment and the Pātea River catchment, which are each unique in a number of ways including size and the fact they are fed by both the hillcountry and the maunga.