Horizons' One Plan six months on

By Dr Tessa Mills

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In the six months since the first interim decision on the One Plan was released, there has been a second decision, released on Christmas Eve, and both Federated Farmers and Horticulture New Zealand lodged a second appeal. At the time of writing there is no sign of the final decision, but much has happened since September when the first decision was released.

Over the past six months the primary sector has become a far more united front, as we share common concerns for our farmer and grower members. The One Plan has always presented a significant challenge for the district's farmers, but what now seems to be surfacing is a more widespread concern among the rest of the community regarding its implications on the local farm supply store, the supermarket, the corner store and the local school.

The economic analysis prepared by the regional council at the outset of the plan was a 'once-over lightly' - lacking in detail and quantitative analysis. Subsequent council analyses also fell short of determining impacts on the wider community, instead focusing on the costs borne within the farm gate. The court heard evidence on the potential economic impacts of the One Plan from various experts, but what seemed to surface in the interim decision was a focus on the costs within the farm gate of mitigation to reduce nitrogen-leaching losses.

Given that regional plans, such as the One Plan, have far wider impacts than those on farmers, it was fortunate that shortly after the release of the first interim decision, a study commissioned by the Ministry for Primary Industries and carried out by Landcare Research emerged.

Although not an exact match for the policy resulting from the interim decision, it did suggest the decision's resource allocation model is inefficient. As such the One Plan is likely to have a significant impact on farm profitability without delivering the environmental outcomes sought. Once farm profitability drops, so too does the money merry-go-round keeping our rural communities afloat.

This lack of economic analysis seems unbelievable, considering that in the March last year BERL regional rankings report New Zealand's bottom three performing districts are three of the five in the Horizons region. These rankings are based on data which includes GDP, employment and population growth. Indications so far suggest that the One Plan will have a significant negative economic impact on a region which cannot afford a significant economic downturn.

We hope Government's review of the Resource Management Act will strengthen its requirements for robust economic analysis and avoid poorly-considered regulation surfacing elsewhere.

On a brighter note, the Horizons regional councillors recently voted nine to three to back Horticulture New Zealand's request to the Environment Court to rehear portions of the hearing in light of recent economic information. Primary sector groups, including Federated Farmers, supports this move, however, Fish and Game remain opposed to any further re-hearing based on economic impacts.

- Hamilton News

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