The Environmental Defence Society and Fish & Game New Zealand are going to the Environment Court to challenge the way Horizons Regional Council is implementing its One Plan.
The One Plan is designed to manage natural resources throughout the Horizons’ region of Whanganui and Manawatu, with particular emphasis on tackling pollution, improving water quality and preserving environmental diversity.
While the One Plan was hailed as “precedent setting” when it was first drawn up, EDS and Fish & Game have become increasingly frustrated with how Horizons has implemented it.
The two environmental groups say they are now filing proceedings in the Environment Court challenging Horizons Regional Council.
“We are concerned Horizons hasn’t been implementing its regional plan lawfully, particularly when dealing with resource consent applications for intensive farming and dairy conversions,” says EDS CEO Gary Taylor.
“The One Plan sets environmental limits for freshwater and these have been thoroughly scrutinised through various hearing and appeal court processes. The expectation was that Horizons would properly implement it and, over time, that would produce improvements in freshwater quality,” says Mr Taylor.
EDS and Fish & Game have had several discussions with Horizons’ staff over recent months in an effort to get the One Plan properly implemented but without success.
“The discussions have traversed both the way in which Horizons is processing resource consent applications and complex issues of science and policy. In the end, there is a gulf between us on what the council’s responsibilities are,” says Mr Taylor.
“The key points of difference include interpretations of the Resource Management Act, the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management and the One Plan itself. In short, we are not convinced the One Plan’s freshwater quality limits will be achieved given the way the consenting regime is presently being managed.”
Fish & Game’s Wellington regional manager Phil Teal is disappointed repeated attempts to get Horizons to properly implement the One Plan have failed.
“It would have been better to work out a solution without having to go to court, but sadly that hasn’t been possible,” says Mr Teal.
“We consider the One Plan to be nationally precedent-setting because it shows how farming can be both economically and environmentally sustainable while maintaining water quality for New Zealand’s longer term future.
“It provides all regional councils with a reasonable, pragmatic and workable template on how to manage the environment, and we are determined to make sure it is properly implemented.”
“The One Plan was seen as key to tackling nitrogen leaching and while we didn’t expect farmers to make radical overnight changes, we did want a realistic approach which produced measurable improvement over time.
“Instead, all that happened was existing practices being grand-parented and that just isn’t acceptable,” Phil Teal says.
Gary Taylor says the discharge of nitrates and other pollutants from intensive farming, including dairy farming, is an ongoing, national issue.
“The proceedings we are filing later this week are Declaration Proceedings which pose legal questions for the Environment Court to answer. We have invited Horizons to comment on the proposed questions and to participate in a co-operative way to get clarity.
“The issues are technical and complex but in the final analysis are critical to freshwater quality, so they are important,” Mr Taylor says.