Great progress is being made on developing a regional plan change aimed at protecting the health of the Waikato and Waipa rivers.
Waikato Regional Council’s policy and strategy committee has yesterday signed off on a series of recommendations designed to get a wide range of groups involved in the design of the plan change.
It comes after nearly 130 stakeholders from a diverse range of organisations attended an all day workshop at Te Rapa racecourse on Wednesday 28 August to discuss the formation of a Collaborative Stakeholder Group (CSG) to represent stakeholders and the wider community as the plan change is developed.
Under Healthy Rivers: Plan for Change/Wai Ora: He Rautaki Whakapaipai, the CSG will make recommendations to the regional council and its partner river iwi decision-makers regarding a plan change. A plan change will involve limits and targets for land-based activities so as to protect the health of the rivers.
The CSG will receive information from a technical alliance - an impartial, advisory group of specialists, with a range of areas of expertise, which will collate, summarise, analyse and present technical information about the rivers, and the consequences for stakeholders and decision makers of different land management scenarios.
Following the 28 August workshop, regional council and river iwi staff endorsed workshop recommendations for the composition of the CSG. These were signed off by the policy and strategy committee on Tuesday, and they will be considered by the full council on 26 September.
The recommendations include a CSG of around 20 people and having a wide range of sector groups involved, including Maori interests, dairying, sheep and beef, forestry, environmental, as well as four “community seats”. Three seats have been left vacant at this stage, with a view to allowing sectors to submit their case for places.
One of the reasons the council and its river iwi partners have chosen a very collaborative approach to a plan change is that it is hoped this will help get as much agreement as possible about how to proceed on complex issues, and also help minimise protracted legal battles.
“Our recent workshop was a fantastic example of collaboration in action and one of the highlights of my political career,” said the council’s land and water quality subcommittee chairman Norm Barker.
“The process is so good it is going to be used for the Sea Change project looking at the Hauraki Gulf. I’m still getting good feedback from people who attended the workshop, including a freshwater angler and farmers who came out of the cow shed to get into the process.
“It’s essential for the health of our rivers and the regional economy that we get the best possible approach going forward, and the workshop process is a very positive sign for the future.”
Policy and strategy committee chair Paula Southgate agreed it was an excellent process: “One of the most useful aspects of the workshop was that it put all the stakeholders in the same shoes as the councillors who are dealing with the complexity of accommodating all stakeholders. They were grappling with the issues we’ve been grappling with.”