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Plan sets environmental standards for region

A plan which sets environmental standards for using the Waikato’s natural and physical resources has now been released by Environment Waikato.

The Waikato Regional Plan has been developed over five years of consultation with more than 1000 people and organisations, submissions from more than 250, 44 days of hearings and 46 days of deliberations. The Plan links the management of all activities using the Region’s land, water, air and geothermal resources.

While the Plan sets environmental bottom lines for all these natural resources, it also reduces bureaucracy by allowing a wide range of activities to go ahead without resource consents – as long as standards are met. It reduces costs to resource users where they meet minimum environmental standards. For instance, you won’t have to pay for a consent for a whitebait stand, as long as it meets conditions.

Chairman Neil Clarke says the Plan will give certainty to people using resources, and captures the changes in public perceptions about the environment. It considers environmental effects across local authority boundaries, resources and the roles and responsibilities of other organisations. He says if people use resources, they need to check what the Plan requires.

“The aim has been to let people use resources with minimal bureaucracy as far as possible while maintaining high environmental standards.”

The Plan identifies how each of the water bodies in the Region will be managed. It sets a long term objective that the lower Waikato, Piako, Waitoa and Waihou rivers will meet standards suitable for swimming.

The water section also encourages the protection of existing wetlands and construction of new ones by substantially reducing the complexity of consents required for new small dams, as long as they’re properly designed.

There are rules for managing structures on river and lake beds and any activities that disturb river beds. The Plan allows a range of structures such as small culverts, bridges, maimais and whitebait stands that won’t affect the environment if properly installed and maintained.

The rules allowing animals in water say what effects farmers must manage to avoid having to get a consent. The Plan also makes use of non-regulatory methods, such as environmental education and economic incentives, to encourage farmers to keep stock out of waterbodies.
In the land and soil section there’s a permissive approach except in high risk erosion areas, clearing vegetation in the Coromandel and near caves. There are also more restrictions on sites where cleanfill is dumped.

The air section says how the Council will keep air quality in the Region high. It provides rules for agrichemical spray drift, discharges, smells and dust, indoor farms and backyard fires. The key is that there should be no objectionable effects on neighbours. The chapter also sets out new requirements for people using agrichemicals, including and obligation to notify neighbours of when you are spraying.

The geothermal section provides protection for geothermal surface features and an emphasis that in the future developers of geothermal stations must sustainably manage the resource.

Neil Clarke says the Council has taken a practical approach and looks at the effects of activities rather than industry sectors. While the Resource Management Act restricts many minor activities, the Plan allows these to go ahead as long as they meet environmental standards, reducing costs to resource users.

During its long development the Council has tried to ensure that anyone interested has had an opportunity to be involved. Submitters and others can still appeal the decisions to the Environment Court, and the Council is expecting appeals.

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

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