Federated Farmers withdraws appeal against Plan Change 13

Plan Change 13 impacts the ability of farmers to intensify their land through irrigation in the Mackenzie Basin.
JOHN BISSET/STUFF

Plan Change 13 impacts the ability of farmers to intensify their land through irrigation in the Mackenzie Basin.

Federated Farmers has withdrawn its appeal against the controversial Plan Change 13, but the long-running, and costly, court battle over the plan is set to continue.

The decade-long legal stoush over Plan Change 13 (PC13), which has cost Mackenzie ratepayers more than $1.2 million, was further extended when two appeals were lodged in May.

The appeals, lodged by Federated Farmers and The Wolds Station, were against an Environment Court decision to confirm the plan.

PC13 restricts the capacity for farmers to intensify their land through irrigation, an issue sometimes known as "greening of the Basin". It also places limits on other farming methods and restricts where they can construct buildings.

It was opposed by nearly all of the district's farmers, who said it was overly restrictive and would make farming unviable.

While Federated Farmers has withdrawn its appeal, PC13 is still bound for court.

A spokeswoman for The Wolds Station confirmed its appeal was still ongoing.

A hearing has been set down for August 2.

In a statement released on Monday, Federated Farmers' High Country executive member Andrew Simpson said the organisation had withdrawn its appeal on the decision, opting for less time in court and more time around the table for discussions.

"As we've said right from when the decision on Plan Change 13 was issued, our appeal was lodged in order to get clarity around a couple of key aspects.

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"There is still concern about several aspects of Judge Jackson's decision, including apparent contradictions between what the Mackenzie District Council has said around enabling traditional farming and the ultimate findings of the court."

However, Federated Farmers wanted to move away from what had been a lengthy period of court processes, he said.

"We want to instead look forward, and focus on working constructively with the council and other parties, and how to make the plan change work on the ground, particularly as we approach the district plan review process."

Mackenzie mayor Graham Smith said the news was "excellent".

"They've sought some clarification, and they're reasonably happy."

However, he said there had been no real winners throughout the process, which had been costly for ratepayers.

"I think things have gone clean over the top as far as ratepayers are concerned.

"It's disappointing it's cost council so much money."

The news has also been welcomed by the Environmental Defence Society, which has strongly supported PC13.

Chief executive Gary Taylor said the decision marked the end of a 10 year process with Federated Farmers, which was a "step forward".

"We're very pleased with Federated Farmers' decision."

Mackenzie council planning manager Nathan Hole said Federated Farmers' decision was pleasing.

The organisation had always said it wanted to work with the council, and the decision reinforced that, he said.

In his Environment Court decision, released in April, Judge Jon Jackson confirmed the plan change with some amendments.

He largely sided with the ecology experts, who gave evidence arguing that ecological values were being lost at a rapid rate, particularly since 2011.

They said there were 83 threatened or at-risk plant species in the Basin that were threatened by development, which had accelerated in recent years.

"The accumulative actions of farmers throughout the Basin have . . . brought the Mackenzie Basin to a point where its landscape values have been modified and its values (and status) as an ONL [Outstanding Natural Landscape] is being threatened," Jackson wrote.

"We consider management by the council is overdue."

He said in some parts of the Basin there was a case for an immediate moratorium on further freeholding, a process largely carried out through the Crown's tenure review process.

 - Stuff

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