Gary Taylor on the environment

Gary Taylor is a commentator on environmental affairs

Gary Taylor: 2010 promises yet more controversy

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If 2009 was a year for environmental controversy, 2010 promises to be even more so, as the Government's reform agenda gathers pace.

On a positive note, the Land and Water Forum will complete its work and report to Environment Minister Nick Smith and Agriculture Minister David Carter in July.

It is expected to recommend a completely new approach to the management of one of New Zealand's most valuable resources: fresh water.

The forum's brief requires it to consider water use, water quality and governance arrangements. If the forum can reach consensus amongst the wide range of participants, the Government can be expected to implement its recommendations.

Of concern, however, is the review on opening up conservation land to mining. This is being conducted by Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee and could become hugely controversial.

Even if the Government finally decides to bow to public pressure and keep the present protections for national parks in place, much of the balance of the conservation estate has biodiversity and landscape values that warrant the same levels of protection.

A decision to allow mining north of Coromandel Peninsula's Kopu-Hikuai road would be very provocative to the locals and to the thousands of Auckland and Hamilton bach owners who have fought tough mining campaigns before - and won.

The minister is releasing a discussion paper on the proposed changes to Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act in March and will invite public comment before final decisions are taken mid-year. He'll get plenty of feedback.

The New Zealand coast will also be a focus of attention this year. The Foreshore and Seabed Act will likely be repealed and replaced with a regime that better recognises customary rights while entrenching public access. Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson can be expected to remain surefooted as he navigates his way through the minefield of competing interests and the issue may be resolved leaving us wondering what all the fuss was.

As the economy picks up, there will be a mini boom in coastal subdivision. Calls for better management and national direction will grow. Conservation Minister Tim Groser will have to release the revised coastal policy statement and decide whether to adopt it. He'll have to take time out of his trade portfolio and give the issue the serious attention it deserves. Failure to improve the regime for coastal subdivision would be hugely disappointing.

Also on the coast, aquaculture reforms will be progressed. We are likely to see the establishment of a new Government agency to promote the industry as well as changes to the RMA to free up marine space.

Proposals for factory farming in the Mackenzie Country attracted attention late last year. That debate will roll on during 2010 as the consenting process continues and legal challenges are made.

The focus to date has been on animal welfare issues but concerns about landscape and ecological impacts are likely to grow. The issue is one where central Government leadership is called for.

Of more local interest this year will be the establishment of the new Auckland Council and what that means for the environment.

The Transition Agency is working to an extremely tight schedule and concerns are mounting, even amongst supporters of the reform, that some of the key deliverables are being lost sight of as the agency focuses on organisation charts and staffing.

A key outcome recommended by the royal commission was the establishment of a spatial plan for Auckland that would guide infrastructure provision and identify areas for both urban development and environmental protection.

But the bill is ambiguous, growth biased and there is no sign of clarity on the proposed planning regime.

Meanwhile the Government is looking at removing the metropolitan urban limits, which would lead to destructive urban sprawl. A Super City with second-rate planning would be a recipe for disaster.

2010 will be a big year for changes in environmental management, both locally and nationally.

The challenge is to make sure the Government's economic growth policies and aspirations for Auckland can be achieved without sacrificing environmental quality. That will require a change in thinking from old-fashioned, think-big development towards modern, clean-tech industries and greening the economy.

Gary Taylor is with the Environmental Defence Society www.eds.org.nz

- NZ Herald

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