Consents process 'legally questionable'

Allan Baird
Allan Baird

A law specialist believes Environment Southland's consent process may be legally questionable.

Christchurch civil litigation lawyer Philip Maw, who worked with the council on a consents division review, has highlighted a number of management and governance changes required. Yesterday, Maw declined to comment further.

A council report, based on his findings, says the existing consent process is "legally questionable" and the council could be open to criticism by the Environment Court.

Since new dairy farms needed consent, the consents committee had overstepped its boundaries in its semi-formal approach of asking applicants to front up to the committee and justify why their resource consent application be granted.

This meant protections under the Resource Management Act for the applicants and the council had not been provided, the report says.

Environment Southland policy planning and regulatory services director Vin Smith said as he understood it, there was no issue with the consents processed so far.

The council was now improving processes to reflect best practice.

In simple terms, the issue with their current process was the "quasi formal" approach which had evolved in recent times where the committee had wanted to hear and decide on a number of applications because they were new or quirky or different, he said.

They believed it was the most appropriate process by allowing applicants to have their say.

They would now review the types of applications referred to the committee in order to reflect national best practice, he said.

Southland Federated Farmers dairy chairman Allan Baird said he was pleased the council had become aware of their error and were working to remedy it.

They expected farmers to work within consent requirements so from his perspective the council should follow the same process.

This was particularly important in the coming months with many of the 10-year dairy consents up for renewal.

The council will discuss the report at tomorrow's council meeting and make a decision then.

The Southland Times