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Published: 2011-09-16 00:00:00

Changes to a scheme designed to protect peat lakes in Waipa District have yesterday been endorsed by Waikato Regional Council’s finance and audit committee.

The changes – related to an agreement between Waipa District Council and the regional council – mean that up to $571,000 must be committed to peat lake protection projects by 1 May next year. Otherwise the surplus funds will become available for other regional natural heritage projects endorsed by the regional council.

“This change will mean that landowners considering land use changes under the peat lake protection scheme have a final window of opportunity to take advantage of it,” said regional council natural heritage programme manager Kevin Collins.

A report to the committee outlined how the regional council had loaned Waipa District $650,000 in 2005 to accelerate part of the district’s contribution to the Maungatautari ecological island project. This interest bearing loan was to be repaid by Waipa District funding peat lakes restoration work that the regional council would otherwise have had to undertake.

Waipa was to use the money to buy land around peat lakes and take it out of production or fund fencing and other measures designed to protect the lakes from the effect of stock.

However, after the loan was advanced, land prices rose and drought made wetland areas around lakes more valuable for farmers. The district council also achieved some lake protection through subdivision requirements.

The end result of these factors and other issues meant that, even though Waipa had spent $324,000 on peat lake protection, it currently owed the regional council $571,000 in capital and interest.

Both councils want the money spent on peat lake protection as quickly as possible.

Therefore, the committee agreed to a suggestion that a deadline of 1 May 2012 be set for the remaining funds to be spent or committed on peat lakes protection.  Any remaining moneys would then become available for other regional council endorsed natural heritage projects.