Items of interest from this week's meetings of the Council's two key committees, Consents & Regulatory, and Policy & Planning:
New challenge for region
The region will face major challenges in implementing and working with new Government freshwater policy and regulations, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. The measures add complexity and cost to the resource consenting process, as well as ratepayer-funded environmental monitoring. “The challenge is finding the smartest and most efficient way forward,” says the Council Chair, David MacLeod.
Climate change responses honed
The Council has developed a Climate Change Strategy and associated action plan which will be continually refined as legislation changes and technologies advance and new opportunities arise, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. The Strategy acknowledges the increasingly urgent need for action in the face of growing concern and evident effects. The aim is for the Council to work alongside the community to avoid or reduce future risks as well as adapt to an emerging and very different future. The Committee was told that current projections are for only minor changes in weather and sea level for this region, bringing risks as well as opportunities. The associated Action Plan sets out current and potential commitments by the Council, both internally in terms of energy use and waste generation, and externally in terms of adapting and adding to work programmes, raising awareness and promoting regionally coordinated efforts.
Ferrets and friends may feel full weight of law
Ferrets, stoats and weasels may be declared pest animals in Taranaki, a move which would result in obligations on land occupiers to take action to control them if required. The Policy and Planning Committee approved plans for a partial review of the Council’s Pest Management Plan, the region’s biosecurity rulebook, to explore the pros and cons of adding the species. Ferrets, stoats and weasels, collectively known as mustelids, are effective and opportunistic non-indigenous predators that have been implicated in the decline and even extinction of native bird species. Possums are currently the only animal species declared as pests in Taranaki, along with 16 plant species. The Committee was told that mustelids are an important target in the successful Towards Predator-Free Taranaki programme, which is enjoying wide support and involvement in the region. Declaring mustelids as pest species, with control able to be enforced, would lock in the gains already being made by the community and help to prevent hotspots from developing in future. Full public consultation would be carried out on the proposal to include mustelids in the Pest Management Plan. If approved, the change would be likely to take effect by early 2021.
Rivers still thriving but dry summers take a toll
Ecological monitoring of Taranaki rivers continues to show encouraging progress but two dry summers in a row have taken a toll on some waterways, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. The latest monitoring report, for the 2018-2019 year, says results are as encouraging as they have been in past few years, and even more encouraging than those from earlier years, with more than half the 57 monitored sites showing strong or very strong long-term improvements. Factors in the improvement include riparian fencing and planting, the switch to land-based dairy effluent disposal and more rigorous compliance regimes, the Committee was told. More improvements can be expected over time. A number of sites have plateaued or started to decline and investigations revealed clear links to drought conditions that occurred in Taranaki during the summers of 2017-2018 and 2018-2019. These brought low flows, longer periods without ‘flushing flows’, warmer water temperatures and greater temperature extremes. All of these take a toll on ecological health.
Life beyond the RMA
A suggested major overhaul of the resource management system, replacing the Resource Management Act with three new laws, would require substantial investment and resourcing, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. A Government-appointed review panel has suggested replacing the RMA with a Natural and Built Environments Act, a Strategic Planning Act, and a Managed Retreat and Climate Change Action Act. It also recommends that a single mandatory plan be developed for each region, combining the Regional Policy Statement, regional plans and district plans. Public consultation would be chaired by an Environment Court judge, and appeal rights would be limited. Other recommendations include greater use of national direction on core matters relating to resource management. The Government plans to run a public consultation programme on the review panel’s recommendations before developing policy and future legislation.
Uruti application may go to hearing
A hearing may be required before a decision can be made on resource consents for air and land discharges at Remediation NZ Ltd’s Uruti operation, the Consents & Regulatory Committee was told. The company’s application attracted 10 submissions in support and 12 opposed, and a site visit is being organised for submitters. If agreement can’t be reached, the decision will be made by a hearing panel made up of two accredited Councillors and an outside accredited commissioner with cultural expertise. Any hearing would be likely to take place before Christmas. Submitters supporting the application include suppliers to the operation, which could process New Plymouth District’s kerbside household food scraps collections if the consents are granted. Objectors, including neighbours, iwi and environmental groups, are concerned about site odours, site management, potential health effects, the sustainability of the operation and the processing of drilling waste. The company has subsequently announced it will cease processing drilling waste.
Eyes on estuaries
A suggested change to the way coastal estuaries are regulated would need considerable resourcing to implement in Taranaki, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. Estuaries in this region are regulated through the Council’s Regional Coastal Plan, but a new report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment suggests this should be a matter for Freshwater Plans. This would require the Council to monitor estuaries in the same way it monitors rivers, and ensure they meet national bottom lines. But the Council has already done or commissioned work to identify issues affecting estuaries and determine how best they can be addressed. Estuaries vary widely across the country and a national ‘one size fits all’ approach may not result in the best outcomes, the Committee was told.