Environmental review of Mackenzie Country to get under way

Parts of the picturesque Irishman Creek in Mackenzie Basin. A review of the Mackenzie has been agreed upon.
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Parts of the picturesque Irishman Creek in Mackenzie Basin. A review of the Mackenzie has been agreed upon.

A "comprehensive and independent" review of the management of the Mackenzie Country will aim to increase collaboration between stakeholders and government agencies.

The review has been agreed upon by key stakeholders, including the Department of Conservation, Land Information New Zealand (Linz), Environment Canterbury (ECan), the Waitaki District Council and the Mackenzie District Council.

The council said the focus of the review was on "improving alignment between the various agencies which have differing statutory functions in the Mackenzie Basin.

"The intent is to enable these agencies to work better together, and reduce instances where decisions are made in isolation. The review will not impact on planning or statutory processes but will instead seek ways to improve the working relationships between the organisations."

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The review follows Federated Farmers withdrawing its appeal against the long-running Plan Change 13 (PC13) saga, which restricts the capacity for farmers to intensify their land through irrigation, an issue sometimes known as "greening of the Basin".

There is still one appeal ongoing, from The Wolds station.

A Mackenzie District Council spokeswoman said the review focused on improving the alignment between the various agencies that have differing statutory functions in the Mackenzie Basin. 

"The intent was to enable the agencies to work better together, and reduce instances where decision were made in isolation."

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The review would seek ways to improve the relationships between the organisations and would not impact planning or statutory processes, she said. 

In a statement, ECan chief executive Bill Bayfield said the Mackenzie Basin was a unique environment with outstanding landscape values and significant ecological values.

"It has been subject to significant change over the last decade because of land-use intensification and everyone has a role to play to protect these internationally significant values.

"The Canterbury Water Management Strategy is already making some good progress in delivering community-led environmental, economic and cultural outcomes and this agreement will strengthen this."

The review will consider the vision for land use, review all the relative legislative and regulatory functions, and consider how better alignment can be achieved within existing statutory constraints.

Department of Conservation director-general Lou Sanson said a closer working relationship would ensure the area's substantial natural values got the protection and support they needed, while increasing numbers of visitors were managed in a way that benefited conservation and the local community.

"Together we can work towards a multi-functional high country space that enables the Basin's precious natural landscapes and ecosystems to be enjoyed for years to come," he said.

Linz chief executive Andrew Crisp said a stronger relationship would help ensure a co-ordinated approach was taken to achieve ecological and landscape protection.

"Land use in the Basin has changed significantly and there is some important work to be done to ensure we reach a balance between its environmental, agricultural, and tourism uses."

Mackenzie District Council chief executive Wayne Barnett said the closer working relationship would enable on the ground activities and regulatory functions of the agencies to be incorporated.

"A considerable amount of activity has taken place over the last decade in the Basin and by working closer with our governing partners on land and water management we will ensure the best outcomes possible for the basin's communities, Runanga and the environment," he said.

He believed the process would increase collaboration and investigate how things could be done better.

It would likely take several months, he said.

The five parties initiating the project have agreed on a terms of reference to outline how the review to achieve a closer working relationship will progress.

The review will initially be done in consultation with Ngai Tahu and the Environmental Defence Society (EDS), and the community and stakeholders will be engaged with in the future.

News of the review has been welcomed by EDS.

EDS chief executive Gary Taylor said it was an important step forward for the Mackenzie Basin "at a time when the current management regimes of the key players are poorly synchronised and are leading to cumulative losses of both indigenous vegetation including tussock grasslands and of outstanding landscapes.

"Earlier this year we approached all of the agencies involved in the area's management and found a shared concern at the outcomes and a real willingness to resource a wide-ranging but short review looking at how agencies could better work together.

"Environment Canterbury has taken a lead in developing terms of reference for the review which is expected to kick off next month after a suitable independent person has been recruited."

The terms of reference included looking at resource management plans and approaches, tenure review, and the role of the Mackenzie Country Trust and how the earlier agreed shared vision document could be implemented.

"While the review is underway, EDS is endorsing the Environment Court's call for a moratorium on further intensification while we chart the way forward."

This story has been updated to clarify the stance of the Mackenzie District Council, in paragraphs 3 and 4, following numerous calls from farmers to the council unclear on its position on the review.

 - Stuff

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