New consent rules welcome

Last updated 05:00 07/03/2014

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OPINION: Environment Southland's decision to lock in resource consent requirements for all new dairy farms in Southland is a case of bureaucracy gone sane.

This is not ill-considered populist scapegoating at the expense of property rights.

Nor is it is a tokenistic rubber-stamping ritual - even though the point will not be lost on anyone that throughout the extended trial process not a single application has been turned down.

What we have here is an example of politicians and bureaucrats moving, perhaps imperfectly, in the right direction and reacting to a great deal of public and scientific concern about the degradation of water quality.

The council's initiative lines up with the signal sent by the National Policy Statement on Freshwater, which limits the tolerance for contaminants allowed in catchment waterways.

With this in mind, Federated Farmers Southland dairy secretary Allan Baird acknowledges a degree of inevitability to Environment Southland's decision.

The council has made dairying a consent-requiring activity rather than simply a permitted one. It requires new dairy farm owners to provide a soil assessment, a nutrient management plan and a winter grazing plan against which their application will be judged.

Initial farmer concerns, while far from entirely abated, do seem to have eased in some quarters. The so-far-so-good experience of applicants surely accounts for a large part of what improvement there has been, though there has perhaps been a thaw in relations as well.

When the new requirements were first being tabled, dealings between the council and farmers were, shall we say, testy.

Mr Baird is able to report improved dialogue more recently. Pleased to hear it.

Environmental protectionists may be drumming their fingers for evidence that, where necessary, the brakes will be applied to the ambitions of those seeking to convert to, or expand, their dairying operations. But the fact remains that the new standards are so far being met.

And it is hard to say how many operations that might have been tempted to dairying have reconsidered on the basis of the new rules.

More broadly, and pleasingly, Environment Southland has been reporting improved compliance performance from southern farmers generally, though a great swath of the farming community is looking with more than a little reproach at local territorial councils which nobody can pretend have got their own act together.

How many voices were raised in indignation throughout southern farmhouses when the regional council reported that for the 2012-13 financial year the Southland District Council, which holds 19 consents for treated sewage discharge, returned more than 50 breaches of consents?

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Our district and city councils face major spending to tidy up their guilty discharges and their ratepayers are going to feel the cost.

But it's an imperative. A big, scary imperative.

- The Southland Times

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