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Published: 2001-03-09 00:00:00

The Waikato community is becoming more concerned about the environment and has given Environment Waikato a strong mandate to enforce rules to protect it. 

That’s the finding of a survey of environmental attitudes presented to next week’s Environment Committee. Chief Executive Barry Harris says the community’s awareness of the importance of environmental issues has substantially increased and they are no longer willing to allow actions that harm the environment.

The survey results give a strong mandate to the Council to deal with environmental issues and challenges it to take action, he said. The Council would respond to these concerns in its draft Strategic Plan, presented later this week.

The survey, conducted in November, showed a strong environmental ethic in the Region. Water and waste are the top environmental issues, and people were strongly opposed to sacrificing environmental quality for economic growth.

The community survey questioned 1873 people about their perceptions of their environment, asking what they felt were the most important issues, whether aspects of the Region’s environment were improving or getting worse, and what concerned them most about the environment. A previous survey was conducted in 1998.

Water quality issues continued to be the most important issue, with waste and air quality emerging as increasingly important. Water and waste disposal issues have increased in importance, and people expect both issues to be the most vital in five years’ time. Other issues causing concern were loss of natural character on the coast, soil and land erosion, urban sprawl and the state of native bush and wetlands on private land.

Water quality in local streams, rivers and lakes is considered to be getting worse by 29 percent of people, while 45 percent felt it had stayed the same. Eighty percent were concerned about water pollution from industry and towns, while 72 percent were concerned about farm runoff.

More than half said they were making an effort to reduce water use and 97 percent were careful not to put pollutants into gutters and drains. More people felt the amount of waste from nearby businesses, farms and industries was getting worse, but that there were fewer opportunities to recycle in their area. More than three quarters said they would recycle if there more convenient facilities and more would dispose of things properly if they knew where to take them.

Almost half said human activities were damaging air quality, with a large number of Hamiltonians saying vehicle emissions were a problem, and large numbers in South Waikato, Taupo and Otorohanga concerned about industrial emissions. However almost a third would still not use public transport instead of their car.

Animal and plant pests were the fifth most important environmental issues, and more people accepted the use of biological controls – 70 percent compared with 48 percent in the 1998 survey. Many more people – 81 percent compared with 57 percent in 1998 – could identify natural hazards such as flooding, earthquakes and landslides that could affect them, but only half say they are prepared for them.

People rated the environment as more important than economic growth and recognised they had a role in protecting it, increasing their personal environmental actions. Although people are still satisfied with the environment, since the 1998 survey a growing number of people consider it is becoming worse.

Environment Waikato Chairman Neil Clarke said the results showed an encouraging increase in people’s interest and concern about the environment.

“These findings give us some strong directions and support to take the environmental actions outlined in the Council’s Strategic Plan. Environment Waikato is responding to these concerns with its plans for the coming decade. We have confirmation of what people feel are the most important issues, and what needs to be done, taking into account people’s ability to fund the work.”

This media item was current at its release date. The facts or figures it contains may have changed since its original publication.