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Published: 2016-10-21 00:00:00

From tomorrow, the public will have its chance to have a say on how best to manage what is arguably New Zealand’s most important and complex river system.

The ground breaking plan change aimed at restoring and protecting the health of the Waikato and Waipa rivers will be publicly notified by Waikato Regional Council tomorrow (22 October).

People will have more than four months to make submissions on the Healthy Rivers Wai Ora Proposed Waikato Regional Plan Change 1, with the council providing an extended notification period to allow people time to understand the proposed changes and make informed submissions.

“Healthy Rivers Wai Ora is one of the biggest, if not the biggest issue we are currently facing as a region,” says chief executive Vaughan Payne.

”A robust, informed submission process is what will ensure we reach workable solutions for everyone which, in the long term, will solve the complex problem of water quality facing our rivers.”

Mr Payne stressed the recent council vote was to endorse the process of notifying the plan developed by the Collaborative Stakeholder Group (CSG), and the submissions process would help determine its final shape. People can submit on any aspect of the plan and can support, oppose or take a neutral stance on points within it.  Submission will close at 5pm, 8 March 2017.

Once submissions close a summary will be made available and people can make further submissions, indicating whether or not they support what’s in the summary.  After this, an independent hearings committee will consider the submissions and people can speak to them. The hearings committee will then release its decisions on the plan. People can then appeal to the Environment Court.

The plan has been developed over the last 2.5 years through the CSG process involving industry sectors and the community. What is proposed gives effect to the legally binding Te Ture Whaimana o Te Awa o Waikato (the Vision and Strategy for the Waikato and Waipa rivers) which was adopted by Government as part of Treaty settlement legislation. It also delivers on Government legislation on the management of fresh water.

A technical advisory group of water quality experts also worked alongside the CSG to advise the social and economic costs of proposals put forward. The collaborative process means those most affected by the changes have been at the table developing the policy and providing input and feedback from their sectors.

“Modelling has suggested this foundation decade could reduce profit by around 4 per cent or $40 million per annum. There will be cost associated with implementing what is proposed but if we don’t act now the costs will be far greater in the future. The CSG recommended a staged approach to manage this,” says Mr Payne.

The only part of the plan that will take immediate effect on notification are new restrictions on intensifying land use.

“From early on the CSG was concerned about land use conversion happening in the Waikato and Waipa catchments. Without this land use change rule the reductions in contaminant discharges we’re seeking through this plan could be undone by changes in land use,” Mr Payne says.

“What’s proposed by the plan is a bold response to addressing the complex problem of water quality facing our rivers. It aims to balance the social, economic, cultural and environmental needs of our region by adopting a phased approach to how we manage water quality over an 80-year period. This first plan change is the foundation decade for change.”

He said the measures suggested will also help protect the multi-million dollar investment already made by people, industry and organisations to improving water quality.

“Through the submission process we want to create workable solutions for everyone that can be implemented and will deliver the improvements in water quality which the people of the Waikato region have told us are so important to them.”

A summary of the proposed plan change is available at www.waikatoregion.govt.nz/healthyrivers.

Anyone can make a submission by sending a written or electronic submission to any of the following: