Mackenzie Agreement not to blame for land clearance concerns, manager says

An irrigator in the Mackenzie Basin.
DEAN KOZANIC/FAIRFAX NZ

An irrigator in the Mackenzie Basin.

A landmark agreement that aimed to help balance economic and environmental needs in the Mackenzie District could be on the rocks if the District Plan is not adhered to, it has been claimed.

The Mackenzie District Council will head to court in December over claims it was turning a blind eye to land conversion occurring in the Mackenzie Basin without proper consents.

Those claims have prompted criticism from Labour environment spokesman David Parker, who said they demonstrated the Government-funded Mackenzie Agreement was not working.

That criticism was unfounded, the agreement's project manager said, but there were concerns about the impact of the court case on the agreement.

READ MORE: Council headed to court

The Mackenzie Agreement commenced in 2013 with an aim of allowing conservation and intensive farming to co-exist in the Mackenzie high country.

That balance has not been upheld, according to the Environmental Defence Society (EDS).

The group 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.

The looming court battle has raised concerns that, if the District Plan is deemed to have loopholes, it could mean trouble for the agreement.

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Mackenzie Agreement project manager Guy Salmon said he was concerned the agreement was being blamed for what was, essentially, an issue with the council's District Plan.

"Everybody was signed the agreement did so on the assumption that provisions in the District Plan would continue to operate," he said.

However, there seemed to be "a way of getting around that".

There was nothing wrong with the Mackenzie Agreement, but it relied on the District Plan as its "foundation stone", Salmon said.

"If that's ripped out from under the agreement, then we have a problem," he said.

There would not be a good outcome if the agreement "fell apart", he said.

"It would be very divisive and polarising."

Mackenzie District Council chief executive Wayne Barnett has said he cannot comment on the case as it was part of a legal process.

The issue is set to head to court on December 14.

EDS had asked for the matter to be considered under urgency, which was granted by Judge L J Newhook on Thursday.

The case will be heard in Christchurch.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Environment Minister Nick Smith said Smith was "reluctant to comment" as the matter was before the Environment Court.

"The minister believes the future of the Mackenzie involves a mix of both protection of landscape and agriculture development."

Smith had been "very supportive" of the Mackenzie Agreement and was committed to further funding its "collaborative approach to resolving these tensions".

"The minister would prefer the parties were finding compromises through the Mackenzie Accord rather than contesting issues through the court process and believes the accord will, over time, provide a better outcome for the community."

 - Stuff

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