A landmark ruling by the Environment Court this week has upheld the controversial One Plan as the centrepiece of environmental regulation in the wider Manawatu. Emma Horsley and Jill Galloway look at what its tough regulations could mean for farming, horticulture, the economy and waterways in the region.
Farmers and market gardeners are reeling as new rules that dictate how they can use their land have been endorsed by the Environment Court in a controversial first for New Zealand.
The groundbreaking One Plan, instigated by Horizons Regional Council and eight years in the making, has drawn criticism from Fonterra, Federated Farmers and primary production organisations as being too stringent.
The policy document is now a reality and, following the Environment Court’s endorsement, is shaping up to be heavier-handed than anyone expected.
People have quit jobs, destroyed friendships and lost council seats over the document that spans hundreds of pages and regulates everything from whether landowners can move soil on their property to how much effluent a farmer can irrigate on his or her land.
It could mean farmers have to reduce the number of stock they run and could regulate whether farms can be converted from sheep and beef to dairy.
It is expected to make a huge difference to the quality of the region’s rivers and lakes, and will be watched closely by other regional councils.
Organisations have been left scrambling to find out what the new rules are going to mean for their various stakeholders and industries, and the regional council now has to decide how it will enforce them.
‘‘We have to look at the original plan and what the Environment Court decisions are and then look at it as a whole and see how it is going to work,’’ said Horizons chief executive Michael McCartney.
Greg Carlyon, the man who started the One Plan process in 2004, said he was ecstatic at the stand the Environment Court had taken.
‘‘The court has basically said a regulatory approach must be taken if changes are to be seen in the environment,’’ he said.
‘‘Education is nice but it hasn’t worked as well as it should and regulation is the way to go.’’
Mr Carlyon, who quit his executive job at Horizons after it began watering down the original One Plan, said the community had been saying for a long time that it wanted a better environment.
‘‘And now that sentiment has been echoed by the Environment Court. It’s a courageous decision.’’Mr Carlyon said there had been hysteria in the early days of One Plan, with farmers scared unnecessarily.
Bulls farmer Hew Dalrymple said he was ‘‘appalled’’ at the decision, saying it would hurt the region’s economy.
Mr Dalrymple said it would have an impact on his operation in Parewanui Rd, which includes stock, trees and cropping, and covers some sand country.
‘‘The Environment Court hearing here showed little regard for the farmers who submitted. They didn’t ask any questions while I was there and farmers often are more passionate in person than the printed word.’’
Mr Dalrymple believed the One Plan’s nutrients limits were based on poor science.
The policy was a blunt instrument that would do a poor job of addressing the issue.
Former Horizons chairman Garrick Murfitt said One Plan would put landowners on a level playing field: ‘‘As it stands, it will be fair and equitable to everyone and no-one will be exempt.
‘‘This is a benchmark case for all regional councils and other councils will be looking with interest at how this will be put in practice,’’ he said.
Mr Murfitt lost his Tararua seat and chairman’s position in the last local government elections over his positive stance on One Plan.
‘‘It happens and as a leader you must stand up and take the criticism when it comes. I have no regrets about that.’’
Wellington Fish & Game manager Phil Teal said the Environment Court had provided an unequivocal judgment.
For too long there has been a flagrant disregard for how land use impacts on water quality, with unsustainable land development and agricultural intensification exacting a huge toll on our most precious resource.’’
Mr Teal said the decision was a shift in freshwater management while at the same time recognising the importance of primary industry.
‘‘It also mandates the necessity of concrete action through a rules-based planning approach to protect and improve the environment and particularly our freshwater resource, which is so crucial to our national identity and ‘100% pure, clean green’ brand.’’
He said it put New Zealand agriculture on an environmentally sustainable footing and set a requirement to clean up its tarnished image.
HOW IT WILL WORK
Seven become one
The One Plan is Horizons Regional Council’s plan to manage natural resources. It’s called the One Plan because it blends six separate plans and regional policy statements into one document that determines how natural resources will be managed for the next 10 years. It focuses on four key environmental areas: water quality, water quantity, biodiversity and land management.
One Plan has more stringent rules for point-source pollution and non- point-source pollution with higher standards for discharges to water for landowners and businesses and nutrient management on intensive farms. Important aquatic eco-systems have been highlighted and a new environmental code of practice for river management activities for flood control has been set.
The demand on surface water and groundwater resources has doubled since 1997 and in some areas is at its maximum. Uses have steadily increased in the past few decades in response to towns growing, stock numbers increasing, and industrial plants putting more demand on water resources. New rules limit water use, which could impact on farming, horticulture, electricity generation and industry.
The Horizons region has the largest area of hill country of any region in New Zealand and when the soil ends up in the rivers it reduces the river’s ability to carry water, increasing flood risk to low-lying communities. Farms at risk of soil erosion are offered farm plans through Horizons’ Sustainable Land Use Initiative (Slui) to help reduce the risk. Landowners who choose not to develop a farm plan must comply with rules for vegetation clearance and earthworks to ensure they do not increase the risk of accelerated erosion.
One Plan contains rules to stop the destruction of rare and threatened, and at-risk habitats. Landowners need permission to complete work on their property. Horizons provides funding and advice to fence and protect top bush remnants and wetlands.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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