Freshwater will be the sole policy focus of Taranaki Regional Council for the next year, despite a murky future for government rules on rivers and streams.
For several years the council has worked to replace its water, soil and air plans with a combined Natural Resources Plan.
Its policy and planning committee decided a fortnight ago to instead focus on finalising a Freshwater and Land Plan, leaving air quality and an overall regional policy to 2025 or later.
That was before the Government’s coalition deal was announced, with council policy manager Lisa Hawkins telling the committee that freshwater improvements would likely still be required.
“We suspect that freshwater will still remain a focus for the new Government,” she said at the time.
“Therefore there might be some changes in our requirement of what we do and how we do it, but the direction of travel to see freshwater improvements is still likely to be there.”
Instead, the coalition agreement spelled out a major shake-up of freshwater rules.
The National Policy Statement and National Environment Standards on freshwater are to be replaced “to rebalance Te Mana o te Wai to better reﬂect the interests of all water users”.
The coalition partners agreed to seek advice on how to exempt councils from the freshwater rules as soon as practicable, even before the Government writes new laws for resource management.
The previous Government’s rules aimed to improve freshwater quality and increase community and Māori input into management of rivers, streams and lakes.
After the coalition announcement, council chairwoman Charlotte Littlewood said under current rules the council must still deliver a freshwater plan by the end of 2024.
“We can’t change our plan until the legislation changes and when it does, we’ll review our work programme.”
Littlewood said if the Government changed the rules close to the deadline it would be hard to respond but she expected ministers would take those timeframes into account.
“Once there is clarity around the changes that central government might make, we can then look at tuning our proposed framework to reflect the changes to the national requirements.”
Labour’s new laws had required more say for Māori in regional decision-making but the new Government had signalled that was likely to change.
Littlewood said despite that the council’s relationship with mana whenua would continue to grow.
“When we talk about building enduring relationships, we seek to do that whatever government is in power, so we’ll continue on that path.
“We didn’t start this programme just because there was one government in place and now that’s changed.”
Hawkins told the policy and planning committee that uncertainty about coming legislative changes and strained capacity drove the decision to focus on freshwater next year.
“There’s been a lot of change in policy requirements over the last few years and there’s a lot of pressure on capacity and resource of all people involved in policy development – iwi-hapū, community, stakeholder parties, even us as council.”
The single focus would allow the burden of reforms to be spread over following years.
One of the committee’s iwi representatives, Mitchell Ritai, appreciated Hawkins’ consideration of squeezed resourcing.
“That’s our primary concern as well, so being able to push for a focus just on freshwater moving through to December 2024 then provides the time for better resource allocation.”
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.