More than 250 have early say on new Regional Plan

26 Sep 2016

More than 250 people have taken up the opportunity to make early comment on an initial draft of an important new plan that will eventually set out how the region’s water, air, land and the coast are managed.

A more than six-week period for public feedback on the Northland Regional Council’s Draft Regional Plan – and a series of five tailor-made catchment plans – ended at 5pm on Friday.

The Draft Regional Plan is effectively a rule book designed to replace three existing regional plans which are now more than 10 years old.  It was released for comment in early August in a bid by the council’s Regional Policy Committee to ‘road-test’ the plan with the community well before council moves into the formal process.

Ben Lee, the council’s Policy Development Manager, says with more than 250 submissions across a wide range of topics – and about 150 people attending drop-in sessions around Northland – the road test could be considered a success and had yielded some valuable additional insights into the community’s thinking.

Submissions were still being processed, but as of early today, a proposal to allow the burning of silage bale wrap had attracted several dozen submissions; the vast majority opposed to it and one of the highest numbers of comments on any topic.

Mr Lee says the burning proposal was included in the Draft Regional Plan by council after weighing up the actual effects of the activity (less harmful than burning halogenated plastics) and taking into account the current lack of alternatives for Northland farmers, including limited recycling options.

Irrespective of the eventual outcome, the silage wrap proposal was a good example of one of the issues the committee had been keen to ‘road test’ to gauge public opinion before a new council began the formal process of firming up the regional plan.

“We’re really grateful to everyone who took the time to make a submission on issues in both the draft regional plan and its plans to tailor the way fresh water is managed in the Doubtless Bay, Pouto, Waitangi, Whangarei and Mangere catchments.”

“That feedback will be a huge help to us as the council shapes a final ‘proposed plan’, which we hope to notify next year.”

Key proposed changes the council had been consulting on included new limits on taking water from rivers, lakes and aquifers, making it easier to get permission for mangrove removal and new stock exclusion rules for rivers, drains, wetlands and lakes.

Aquaculture would be prohibited in sensitive areas and the new plan should make it easier to get a mooring.  It also identified new protected anchorage zones, more no-discharge areas and stricter rules on hull-fouling to better manage risks from marine pests, and more targeted protection for areas of natural or cultural significance.

Mr Lee says staff would now spend the next few weeks carefully analysing and summarising all the feedback.

Councillors in the newly-relected regional council (local body elections will be held Saturday 08 October) would then consider the feedback and make any necessary changes before formally notifying the plan.  At this stage that was likely to be about August next year.

With the draft plan, the current council sought to strike a balance between protecting the things Northlanders value – like clean water and air – and providing for important economic activities including farming, horticulture, forestry, tourism and marine enterprise.

“The new draft reflects better knowledge of our region’s environment and also factors in important changes over the past 10 years or so, including new national direction and policies from central government.”

Information about the Draft Regional Plan is available online via: www.nrc.govt.nz/newregionalplan and the catchment management plans via www.nrc.govt.nz/waiorafeedback