Protecting farmers under Horizons One Plan

By Andrew Hoggard


After five years of battling to ensure central North Island farmers are treated fairly in the Horizon Regional Council's One Plan, Federated Farmers is continuing its fight to retain the ground initially won through the submissions and hearing process.

With the One Plan's long and complicated mediation process ended and the parties' revised positions drafted, it is almost inevitable portions of the plan will be decided in the Environment Court.

While Federated Farmers is upholding its appeal points, it must wait to see if the other parties will take the unresolved issues within the scope of their appeal documents to the Environment Court for settlement. If this happens, it is likely to be during March or May.

The One Plan, which incorporates six separate plans and the Regional Policy Statement, was brought to Federated Farmers attention five years ago when it was first notified.

Once adopted, it would dictate how the regional council managed a vast chunk of the central North Island's natural resources during the next decade.

Horizons' plan initially proposed to make intensive land-use systems, such as dairy farming and market gardening, controlled activities in certain catchments.

Consent would have been required to farm in Tararua, coastal Rangitikei, Wanganui and several Horo- whenua catchments. Farmers would have also needed consent to convert land to intensive farming systems.

On top of this, consented farms would have had to complete a Farm Strategy, at their cost.

The plan had to be completed by an accredited Horizons' consultant and demonstrate how the plan's proposed nitrogen loss limits would be achieved. Limits

were based on a farm's soil class or land- use capability (LUC). During the plan's hearing process in 2009-10, Horizons addressed the issues and Federated Farmers was relatively comfortable with the result.

Considerable change was made to the land chapters and the decisions version was a vast improvement on the initial plan.

Although we had some appeal points on matters addressed in the land chapters, none of the issues we raised through the appeals process were points we could compromise on and we approached the mediation table with that in mind.

Not all parties involved in the One Plan process were happy with the decisions version.

What happened in the mediation sessions was challenging, with rules slowly changing until the entire suite of rules governing activities on land looked disturbingly similar to the version of the One Plan initially notified. Despite Federated Farmers' committed approach to the mediation on the land chapters, other parties somewhat took over the mediation process.

Although we all agreed a 'reasonably practicable' method should be established for farmers when preparing a Nutrient Management Plan, the resulting rules stream was several steps too far and Federated Farmers did not agree with the proposed changes.

Federated Farmers is committed to further discussions with the other parties on the land chapters' rules. We are being backed by Horizons, Fonterra and Horticulture NZ, who all agree the plan should apply only to dairy farmers.

While it would be more desirable to reach a resolution outside court, if it means losing the significant ground already gained through the hearings process, we prefer the plan be taken to the Environment Court.

- Hamilton News

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