Council makes decision on One Plan change

At their Strategy and Policy meeting today, Horizons Regional Council made their decision on changes to the One Plan. This decision was then adopted at the Regional Council meeting that followed shortly after.

Horizons’ One Plan sets out how natural resources are managed in the Manawatū-Whanganui Region.

Implementation of the provisions of Chapter 14 of the One Plan were the focus of declaratory proceedings before the Environment Court in 2017, which in general terms addressed the way in which the One Plan provisions were being applied by Horizons when processing resource consent applications for existing intensive farming land use.

Horizons Chair Rachel Keedwell says Plan Change 2 sought to address problems with the policy and rule framework for existing land use activities in the One Plan, including the issue of managing nutrients, sediment and pathogens loss from these activities in target catchments.

“It was identified that these policies were not working in the manner intended at the time the One Plan was made operative,” says Cr Keedwell.

“The One Plan intended for most farms using good management practice to be able to meet the nitrogen leaching maximums table (Table 14.2) in the Plan.”

Horizons and the Minister for the Environment obtained expert planning and legal advice around the problematic policy and rule framework. Based on this advice, in 2018 Horizons resolved that a plan change was necessary.

The Proposed Plan Change 2 was notified in July 2019 and received 84 submissions, with 32 further submissions received.

Horizons Regional Council strategy and regulatory group manager Dr Nic Peet says a significant amount of information and analysis was compiled to help inform the Proposed Plan Change. 

“This includes water quality considerations macroeconomic analysis, a farm-scale economic impact assessment, and a social impact assessment, as well as assessing the scope against requirements of the Resource Management Act,” says Dr Peet. 

“The Proposed Plan Change was limited to the consideration of existing intensive land-use activities (dairy, commercial vegetable growing, arable farming, and irrigated sheep and beef) in order to ‘hold the line’ on intensification across the region.

“Council appointed a hearing panel of three commissioners, with pre-hearings and expert conferencing were held between March and August last year.

“These meetings included hearing from submitters. Expert conference sessions were held on six topics and produced joint witness statements.

“The panel held the Plan Change 2 hearing between 12 and 22 October 2020, where they heard from approximately 75 people. The panel made their recommendations available to Council on 19 March 2021.

“Today, Council considered the panel’s findings at our Strategy and Policy meeting, and made a decision to adopt their recommendations. This decision was then confirmed at the Regional Council meeting also held today.

“The Plan Change has updated the cumulative nitrogen leaching maximums in Table 14.2 to reflect the best available OVERSEER modelling information; provides a workable pathway for existing intensive farming land use activities to apply for resource consent where they cannot meet Table 14.2 within targeted water management sub-zones; and reinforces good management practices as part of intensive farming land use activities.

“The Plan Change is still in a statutory process. Council’s decision will be publicly notified and submitters and further submitters will be served with a copy of the public notice within the next few weeks. These submitters may appeal the parts of the decision that relate to their original submission to the Environment Court. There is an appeal period of 30 working days once documents have been served.

Cr Keedwell says Plan Change 2 enables Horizons to return to effective regulation of existing intensive farming land uses through the One Plan as soon as practicable.

“Council’s focus is to now turn to implementation of the Plan Change and to continue to improve water quality throughout the region,” says Cr Keedwell.

“Horizons’ wider programme of work includes reviewing that effectiveness of the One Plan and what is required to give effect to the National Policy Statement – Freshwater Management 2020.

“Council would like to thank the panel for their time and recommendations, and to those who provided evidence during the process.

“The panel has noted that submitters, council officers and expert advisors prepared comprehensive reports and evidence, and were particularly open and responsive to their queries, as well as suggestions or requested recommendations from other hearing parties.

“We acknowledge that this Plan Change process has created uncertainty and stress for landowners, we also acknowledge that our decision is an interim measure and more work needs to be done in this area. This includes notifying a revised One Plan by 2024.

“Council looks forward to continuing working with our community to ensure our region’s ecosystems are valued for their intrinsic worth and provided sustainability for our communities.”