Mackenzie District Council headed to court over land conversion concerns

Irrigation and land conversion in the Mackenzie Basin has prompted a stand-off between an environmental group and the ...

Irrigation and land conversion in the Mackenzie Basin has prompted a stand-off between an environmental group and the district council.

The Mackenzie District Council is heading to court over concerns about the environmental impact of land conversions.

An environmental organisation claims the council is turning a blind eye to land conversion that is happening in the Mackenzie Basin without proper consents.

The Environmental Defence Society (EDS) has filed an application with the Environment Court to stop land conversions in the region.

Chief executive Gary Taylor said the group was concerned about the "thousands of hectares of land" being converted into intensive agriculture without any consenting process being undertaken by the district council.

"It's leading to widespread landscape and ecological harm," he said.

He believed that stance was backed up by research.

An affidavit by Crown Research Institute Landcare Research programme leader Dr Susan Walker has been entered as part of the application.

In the affidavit, Walker states clearance in the Mackenzie Basin will have "serious adverse effects" on biodiversity.

"The scale and pace of clearance I have observed across the Mackenzie Basin in the last year is unprecedented in my 20 years' experience," she states.

Taylor believed the reason the council was not intervening was because of the way it interpreted a rule in its District Plan.

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"We think they're mis-interpreting it," Taylor said.

"There's a bit of a stand-off going on."

He was unsure when the matter would head to court, but said EDS had asked for the court to treat it as "a matter of urgency".

Mackenzie District Council chief executive Wayne Barnett said the council had received a copy of the application and was working through it.

"There are provisions in our District Plan and we are charged with applying those provisions, and we have done that," he said.

It was unclear when the matter would head to court, he said.

An Environment Canterbury (ECan) spokeswoman said it had issued resource consents to irrigate a combined area of 6937 hectares in the Mackenzie Basin. 

Resource consent applications for a further 4800 hectares were still in process, either with ECan or the Environment Court, she said.

"There was a high demand for water to irrigate the Mackenzie Basin following release of the Waitaki Catchment Water Allocation Regional Plan in September 2005.

"However, not all of the resource consent applications received in the years following this were granted."  

ECan had declined applications for more than 2500 hectares of irrigation in the past five years, primarily due to concerns about effects on water quality and landscape values, the spokeswoman said.

Taylor said the EDS had become concerned over land conversion in the Mackenzie Basin during its work on the Plan Change 13 (PC13) issue.

PC13 proposed greater protection of the landscape values of the Mackenzie Basin from inappropriate subdivision and development.

That case, which is still ongoing, has been involved in various court processes since 2010 when several groups, including the Mackenzie branch of Federated Farmers and Meridian Energy, lodged appeals in the Environment Court.

The legal costs for the council - and ratepayers - have mounted to more than $1 million since the beginning of the process in 2007.


 - Stuff


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