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Published: 2008-03-13 00:00:00

Environment Waikato is signalling changes to its policy framework in response to escalating pressures on the environment.

As part of its regular policy review cycle, the Policy and Strategy Committee yesterday received a comprehensive evaluation of the Waikato Regional Policy Statement (RPS), the key document under the Resource Management Act (RMA) that states policies and methods to achieve integrated management of Waikato’s natural and physical resources.

Committee chair Paula Southgate said the evaluation of the RPS showed the council would have to consider changes to its policy statement, and the way policies were implemented and measured, to manage the effects of significant growth and development across Waikato over the past 10 years.

The evaluation shows a third of the council’s 33 objectives had been met in full or in part, while the remaining objectives could not be properly evaluated or were overly ambitious and difficult to achieve within a 10-year timeframe, given the pressures on the environment.

“The consultant said we were doing well but the scope has changed. When our RPS was first notified 17 years ago, the community could not have anticipated that urban growth and a super-charged dairy sector would put such enormous pressure on our region’s natural resources,” Cr Southgate said.

“Population growth in Waikato and the neighbouring regions of Auckland and Bay of Plenty, the growth and intensification of the primary production sector, the growth of the Waikato as a major energy provider and tourist and lifestyle destination have all accelerated over recent years, challenging our ability to achieve our environmental objectives.”

Cr Andra Neeley said, “It’s like the tide is going out faster than we can row.”

Not only have there been social and economic changes, but the legislative environment in which the council operates has also changed considerably, with the RMA, for example having been amended 14 times since 1993.

“We need to refine our objectives and the policies and methods we use to achieve these to ensure the RPS remains relevant and useful – our second generation policy statement is likely to take a very different approach.

“We also need to keep sight of the social, economic and environmental outcomes we need to achieve.”

By law, the regional council must review its RPS within 10 years of it becoming operative. The RPS became operative in October 2000 following seven years of public submissions, hearings and final decisions by the Environment Court.