The Northland Regional Council has reversed last year's decision, made on the casting vote of then chairman Bill Shepherd, not to include provisions to control genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the Coastal Marine Area (CMA) in its proposed regional plan.
The previous council, before October's local body elections, resolved not to include GMO provisions after a long process during which councillors heard and considered expert scientific evidence and feedback from more than 80 submissions over several years.
The council had been evenly split into two camps, however, Mr Shepherd broke the deadlock with his casting vote.
The Whangārei and Far North District councils subsequently filed appeals with the Environment Court, supported by a host of other parties but opposed by three (Life Sciences Network, Biotech NZ and Federated Farmers), who formally withdrew from the proceedings last week.
The 'new' council, following last year's elections, decided in January that it would not change the 2019 decision, but would not take an active part in the appeal proceedings, including the offering of evidence.
"Effectively, council was content to leave it to the other appeal parties, who represented both sides of the argument, to present the evidence and respective positions on GMOs to the court," Smart said, but the withdrawal of the parties supporting the decision meant the court would only have heard from those seeking the inclusion of provisions.
The council had therefore re-examined its position, and agreed that including coastal GMO provisions in its regional plan would better achieve the purpose of the Resource Management Act and other plans, including its regional policy statement and the NZ coastal policy statement.
Including coastal GMO provisions would also ensure consistency with the way the issue was approached on land under the Far North and Whangārei district plans, as well as with Auckland Council, which had GMO provisions for its CMA.
The council would now work with the parties involved in the Environment Court process to confirm the wording in the proposed plan before filing it with the court.
Tuesday's decision was welcomed by GMO opponents who attended the meeting, who labelled it a victory.
Nora Shayeb, from the Northland Toxin Awareness Group, said there were "millions of reasons" to oppose the use of GMOs, which she linked with the increased use of pesticides, which she described as harmful to the environment and humans.
"Most of our waterways are poisoned. Water is one of our most basic needs, but our water is making people sick," she said.
Another opponent, Social Credit president Gloria Bruni, said New Zealand had "the outstanding opportunity to mark ourselves as uniquely sustainable.
"We'll compromise this if we introduce GMO into the region."
Councillor Joce Yeoman had spoken in favour of changing the council's position, saying previous decisions were based on political grounds and not "sound Resource Management Act decision-making", but councillor Rick Stolwerk said he believed the 83 submissions made to the council, mostly in favour of provisions, did not represent the position of Northlanders well enough.