Clarity needed on freshwater responsibilities; NRC

22 Jan 2016

The Northland Regional Council is calling on central government to reveal more about its plans for any future freshwater reform, including how it proposes to tackle Maori rights and interests.

Chairman Bill Shepherd says a paper put to Cabinet early last year indicated the Government's position at that time was that no-one owned freshwater, no generic share of freshwater resources would be provided to iwi and there would be no national settlement of iwi/hapu claims to freshwater resources.

However, he says the government's current position on addressing iwi/hapu rights and interests in the context of any freshwater reform – including any deviation from that outlined to Cabinet last year – is unclear, frustrating his fellow councillors.

"We are watching the process between the crown and iwi with great interest, but council is not a part of the negotiations at this stage and our knowledge of progress is limited."

With that in mind, councillors had held at extraordinary meeting in Whangarei today, at which they called on central government to be more upfront about its plans; including engaging with the regional council before committing to any changes.

Councillor Shepherd says the council's collective position at today's meeting was that it wished to see the Crown continue to act as kaitiaki of the nation's freshwater on behalf of all New Zealanders.

Similarly, councillors reaffirmed their support for the regional council sector's continued role of managing freshwater under the current statutory processes, which include involving community participation.

He says given the council's existing water management role, the council would in all likelihood be able to formally submit on any proposed law changes, but it needed a great deal more clarity on the government's plans and sooner, rather than later.

"We have a duty of care to consider issues like these carefully and constructively to try to reach a position that serves the collective best interests of all Northlanders, including Maori and we take that responsibility very, very seriously."

"This is a significant matter not just for Northland, but for all New Zealanders."

Councillor Shepherd says the council planned to today write to a number of parties, including the Government and its fellow local authorities in Northland, to formally outline its position.

In the meantime, he says the regional council will continue to work on a catchment by catchment basis, gathering information, growing its expertise and scientific knowledge and managing operational matters relating to water quality and water allocation in Northland.

"We'll also continue to fulfil our role in understanding community issues and work closely with our catchment management groups."