Items of interest from this week’s meetings of the Council’s two key committees, Consents & Regulatory, and Policy & Planning:
The two Committees generally meet every six weeks, on the same day.
Each committee is made up of Councillors and external members, including representatives nominated by Iwi.
Popular beaches maintain quality
Bathing-beach water-quality monitoring last summer indicated that coastal waters were of generally good quality, especially compared with the previous summer when unusually wet weather gave rise to run-off issues. At least 13 samples were collected for analysis from each of 14 sites between November 2018 and April 2019, with another eight or so collected from eight of the sites. The Policy and Planning Committee was told that bacteria levels in 92% of the 243 samples were within national guidelines, with Opunake, Fitzroy and Oākura (at camping ground) having the best records. Oākura (at surf club) and Ohawe were comparatively the worst, though their median results were still within guidelines. Pleasingly, no site is showing significant deterioration, according to the Council’s long-term record of annual summer monitoring.
River swim sites generally in good shape
Apart from persistent wildfowl contamination at a couple of sites, Taranaki freshwater swimming spots generally got through the 2018-2019 summer in good shape, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. The Council regularly monitored 16 sites from November to April, taking a total of 251 samples. Of the 43 samples that exceeded the ‘action’ guideline for bacterial contamination, almost half were from the lower Waiwhakaiho River and lower Te Henui Steam, and caused by resident wildfowl. Exceedances at other sites were generally isolated events. The best sites for water quality were the Pātea River at the Pātea boat ramp, Lake Rātāpiko, the Urenui River estuary, the Manganui River at Everett Park and the Waingongoro River at the Eltham camp. Cyanobacteria blooms were recorded at Lake Rotomanu for a shorter period than the previous season. The Committee was told that while riparian fencing and planting along with diversion of dairy effluent disposal to land will help to increase freshwater quality, variations in sampling results depend as much on weather conditions and river flows as they do on land-use practices.
Sharp eye on wastewater plants
A cabinet paper discussing inadequate local-government regulation of wastewater and stormwater systems makes generalised claims that do not apply to Taranaki, the Consents & Regulatory Committee was told. The paper by the Ministry of Local Government says council inadequacies include lack of transparency and public reporting, treatment plants operating on expired consents, lack of enforcement action and inconsistent compliance monitoring. But the Committee was told the Council has thorough and long-established monitoring programmes for all the region’s wastewater treatment plants and publishes annual compliance reports. Three of the 26 plants are operating under old consents, but renewals are on the way for these and one of them is simply for emergency overflows that seldom occur. Wastewater treatment plant operators in the region generally perform well but the Council undertakes investigations and enforcement action when necessary, up to and including court action. The Council’s compliance and enforcement programmes have been rated very favourably in peer reviews, and the Council is working with iwi to develop its mātauranga Māori processes and capacity in this and other areas.
Coastal charges not for Taranaki
The Council does not intend taking up an opportunity to introduce a new occupation charges covering coastal structures such as moorings, jetties, wharves, sheds or boat ramps. An amendment to the Resource Management Act allows regional councils to impose such charges – and if they don’t, they must say so in their Coastal Plan. The review of the Coastal Plan for Taranaki is in its final phase and a new Plan is expected to be formally adopted by the Council next month. The Policy and Planning Committee was told that Taranaki had relatively few such coastal structures and they had minimal impact on public access. And unlike other regions, consent-holders in Taranaki fund the cost of compliance monitoring. So an occupation fee would impose an additional and unnecessary charge.
Climate-change moves bring implications
The Government’s climate-change initiatives are likely to have flow-on effects for the Council, particularly in its flood control, sustainable land management and freshwater quality programmes, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. More grants and other incentives to encourage forestry may benefit the Council’s sustainable land management and freshwater programmes, while farm livestock numbers may change as a result of future announcements. Meanwhile, flood control is assuming greater importance because of extreme weather events associated with climate change, the Committee was told. The Council has been closely involved with other regional councils in making a case for the Government to resume its funding assistance for such work, as ratepayers have borne the total cost since the 1980s.
Role of natural gas considered
A new report promoting the ‘wise’ use of natural gas is clearly an advocacy tool for the hydrocarbon sector but it offers a useful perspective on the drive to reduce emissions to meet 2050 targets, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. The report, ‘Powering to 2050’, suggests using natural gas to replace coal, encourage electrification and develop carbon capture and storage technology. It says emissions in the United States and United Kingdom are at their lowest level since the 19th Century thanks to the switch from coal to natural gas. The report was produced by the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association of NZ in the wake of the Government’s decision to stop issuing new offshore mining permits. A decision on onshore permits is pending. The Committee was told that the regional community will be watching developments with great interest.
Land proposal needs more work
The Government is proposing new requirements aimed at preventing urban development on highly productive agricultural land, but its suggested framework would impose significant costs on the Council for questionable benefit, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. The Government had indicated it wants to issue a new National Policy Statement (essentially a directive to councils) on highly productive land. Among other provisions, the NPS would require the Council to produced detailed maps of the region’s highly productive land, and also amend its plans – a time-consuming and expensive process. New Plymouth is the region’s only potential pressure point for urban or lifestyle-block development and the New Plymouth District Council already has controls in place, the Committee was told. The Council will work with District Councils and make a submission to the Government suggesting that the NPS should be targeted to major urban centres or high growth areas, or regions which are predominantly made up of highly productive agricultural land.
Get dolphin details right, Wellington told
The Council has expressed broad support for a proposed new regime to protect Hector’s and Māui dolphin but is urging the Government to be sure to get the details right. The rare mammals’ range includes Taranaki coastal waters, which are partially included in a new Marine Mammal Sanctuary, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. Submissions on a proposed Threat Management Plan closed in August and the Council’s was largely supportive, particularly of provisions for the Department of Conservation and Fisheries NZ to undertake more research and investigations. However, it urged the Government to undertake more consultation with iwi, whose traditional fishing practices may be affected by restrictions under the new plan, and to ensure that any restrictions on commercial activity are under inclusive and appropriate legal frameworks rather than the narrow, limited and indirect threat management review process.