Government may reduce local authorities' powers

Environment Minister Nick Smith is hinting the Government might snatch crucial water-management powers from local authorities after the quashing of consents for controversial Mackenzie cubicle dairy farms.

After a High Court challenge by the Environmental Defence Society (EDS), the land-use consents and a certificate of compliance issued by the Waitaki District Council for the proposed factory farms were found to be invalid because of a technicality.

The council officer involved did not have the proper authority.

Green groups said the bungle showed that small, under-resourced councils were not up to enforcing their district plans to protect the environment.

Smith said current regulations were inadequate for protecting the environment from intensive agriculture.

"The fact the Government decided to establish an Environmental Protection Authority and is moving at pace to give a clearer national direction around issues of water management is a signal that we think the existing structure has been too devolved and left too much in the hands of local authorities," he said.

The Government's powerful land and water forum is expected to report back next month and will attempt to find a more collaborative way of deciding development than the piecemeal process offered under the Resource Management Act.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said other Waitaki council consents may have been unlawfully issued, and he was considering referring the matter to the auditor-general.

Waitaki District Council acting chief executive Thunes Kloete said the matter was still before the court and there would be no comment.

It is understood the council is taking legal advice over the High Court orders.

The cubicle dairy farming plan proposed by Southdown Holdings, Five Rivers and Williamson Holdings was for nearly 18,000 cows to be housed in cubicle stables for 24 hours a day, eight months a year.

Up to 1.1 million litres of effluent could have been discharged a day.

The backers withdrew their effluent-discharge consent applications this year after the Government decided to "call in" the applications.

Southdown Holdings director Richard Peacocke said it was unfortunate the land-use consents and certificate of compliance were invalid.

"We don't think it's appropriate to reapply," he said.

EDS chairman Gary Taylor said the quashing of the consents was an opportunity for a review of the Mackenzie's development plans.

The Press