Judge calls for stronger basin development control

05:18, Dec 14 2011

A long-awaited document on the Mackenzie Basin's future seeks stronger development controls.

The Mackenzie District Council's Plan Change 13 (PC13), which proposes greater protection of the landscape values of the basin from inappropriate subdivision has been caught up in the Environment Court for nearly 18 months.

Landowners appealed the hearings' commissioners decision, saying the controls were too restrictive.

However, Environment Court judge Jon Jackson's 170-page interim decision, released yesterday, suggested the commissioners' decision did not go far enough.

The Mackenzie Basin as a whole was "an outstanding natural landscape", rather than an area which features outstanding landscapes, as suggested by the hearings commissioners, he said.

Judge Jackson was also concerned the plan change "left hanging" several important issues about the basin's environment – including land-use intensification and wilding pine control.

Advertisement

"Not only are there matters of national importance involved, but several of the core elements of sustainable management," he said.

"If there is only one foreseeable, in fact, obvious, need for everyone, it is that they wish to experience the outstanding natural landscape and foreground to Aoraki-Mt Cook."

Landowners who lodged appeals with the Environment Court to the original plan change included High Country Rosehip Orchards, Mackenzie Lifestyle, Mount Gerald Station, Mackenzie Properties, The Wolds, Haldon Station, and Rhoborugh Downs. Most of the appeals expressed concerns specific to their own properties. Meridian Energy also appealed.

Judge Jackson took issue with some of the landowners' claims about the importance of farming in the Mackenzie Basin, particularly Mackenzie Federated Farmers' chairman John Murray's statement that farming was still the region's "predominant business".

"Tourism provides 35 per cent of the employment in the Mackenzie Basin. At 20 per cent, the farming, forestry and fishing sector is a distant – but important – second. With respect to Mr Murray, if the importance of business is measured by the number of employees, then clearly tourism is the dominant business," he said.

However, he also acknowledged that farming was important "socially and culturally", and a vital component of the region's popularity for tourists.

Mr Murray, who is also The Wolds' pastoral leaseholder, said he had not received a copy of the interim decision yet. However, he was concerned that the judge had gone "beyond the scope" of the original appeals.

"We settled a lot of the issues during the mediation. I'm worried that he has stretched beyond the boundaries of the appeals. If his proposed restrictions are too stringent, we could be up the creek," he said.

The interim decision assessed the specific concerns of each of the land-owner appellants. However, in many cases, the judge felt there was insufficient information, particularly in regard to the hazard risks, and has asked for the council's commissioned landscape architect to provide more detailed maps.

It is expected the councillors would receive copies of the decision this week. The council has until March to decide whether it wants to object to the interim decision.

WHAT IS PLAN CHANGE 13

Plan change 13 proposes greater protection of the landscape values of the Mackenzie Basin from inappropriate subdivision and development.

The Mackenzie District Council received more than 150 submissions on the plan change. Many high country farmers and businesses said the changes were too restrictive.

After the plan hearings, the initial proposal to classify the entire Mackenzie Basin as an "outstanding natural landscape" was reworded to say the basin had "distinctive and highly valued landscape".

The council formally issued its revised plan change 13 in September 2009, but at least 10 groups, including Mackenzie Federated Farmers, Meridian Energy and Pukaki Downs, lodged appeals with the Environment Court. An Environment Court hearing was held in August last year.

Judge Jon Jackson's interim decision, released yesterday, suggested reclassifying the entire Mackenzie Basin as "outstanding natural landscape", and placing stronger controls on subdivision.

The district council has until March to decide whether it wants to appeal the interim decision.

The Timaru Herald