River Plan Change

Article – Kathy White

Waikato Regional Councillors made the decision to publicly notify the Healthy Rivers Plan Change for the Waikato and Waipa Rivers on 15 September. It should have been an easy vote but it wasnt. The vote was split 7-7.

This was partly because councillors received letters from two government ministers and the BNZ bank (Taupo Times,17 Sep) very close to the decision time, and these letters expressed concern about one controversial aspect of the plan change – the land use change rule – which would become operative upon notification. This meant restrictions on land use (rule 7) would happen immediately, before consultation took place.

Ministers Smith and Guy said that “although the Resource Management Act does provide for some rules being able to take immediate effect, these powers need to be exercised cautiously as affected people will not at that time have had an opportunity to comment or make submissions.”

The letter from the BNZ Bank was received by councillors on the evening before our decision. “Putting this … in place before any public consultation process has been conducted could cause uncertainty that could potentially de-stabilise farm land values at a time when rural communities are already confronting challenges.”

I seconded a motion to spend two weeks getting more information about the potential impact of the land use change rule on land values, because this information had not been given to the Collaborative Stakeholder Group that has been conscientiously working on this project for 2 ½ years, nor had it been given to councillors. This motion for a two week delay failed at 7-7 and as a result the same councillors voted against notifying the plan change. Our Chair used her casting vote.

I voted the way I did because this rule will potentially have major impact on people’s lives and I think people should have the chance to make a submission before it’s introduced. I also believe strongly in reducing contaminants in the rivers. This was the most dissatisfying and conflicted vote that I have had to make during my time in Council and I know that others felt the same.

The Regional Plan change will be notified before 28 October. Our community will have 80 days to make a submission. It’s a vital first step towards focusing people on the health of the river. There are many good things about this plan change but I think it can improve. Please read about it, ask questions and make a submission.

Kathy White

(This is my personal view and not the view of Waikato Regional Council)

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