The regional council has today adopted the Waikato’s most significant policy document designed to protect the natural environment and contribute to the region’s economic performance, productivity and prosperity.
The proposed Regional Policy Statement (RPS) is a far reaching planning tool that sets out the overall regional direction for the use, management and protection of Waikato’s natural and physical resources over the next 10 years and beyond.
Its 15 chapters cover resource management issues and how we will manage air, the built environment, coastal marine area, the vision and strategy for the Waikato River, freshwater bodies, geothermal, heritage, indigenous biodiversity, landscapes, natural hazards, and soils, as well as the monitoring and evaluation of the policy.
A hearings committee, chaired by independent commissioner Alan Watson, sat for 37 days of hearings, heard 270 people, and considered 268 submissions requiring 10,015 separate decision points. As well as Mr Watson, who has expertise in the Resource Management Act, two other independent commissioners served on the committee. They were Anthony Olsen, who brought expertise in matters of significance to Maori, and Andra Neeley who was nominated by the Waikato River Authority. Councillors Simon Friar, Phillip Legg and Paula Southgate were the council members on the committee, which finished its deliberations earlier this month and presented a decisions report to the council for adoption today.
Council chairman Peter Buckley said it was clear the hearings committee’s decisions had resulted in a major piece of policy that was “uniquely Waikato” and set the foundations for the region’s environmental protection and regional growth.
“The committee has drawn together many complex strands to provide a coherent framework for the use and development of land, balanced with resource management and protection. These concepts are equally applicable to managing impacts on the Waikato River as they are to providing for future urban and industrial growth around Hamilton,” he said.
“The decisions reflect the desire of submitters for a policy with a more collaborative approach, and a means of ensuring partnerships has been inserted into the RPS. They also recognise that there are many tasks for the regional council and other local councils when it comes to improving the region’s environment, that these can’t all be done at once and that there are priorities for action. This takes into account feedback from local councils.”
Other key changes to note as a result of submissions and feedback include:
- New approaches for improving water quality and indigenous biodiversity
- More explanation around the health and wellbeing of the Waikato River catchment.
- Increased emphasis on managing the adverse effects of resource use, not the activities themselves
- A new approach to managing potential conflicting land uses, such as industrial and residential, in the same area.
- Greater focus on the National Policy Statement for Renewable Electricity Generation 2011.
Some submitters sought to have parts of the region identified as being outstanding natural features and landscapes (ONFL). However, these did not meet the assessment criteria which include such things as landscape characteristics and aesthetic values.
Cr Theresa Stark moved an amendment to a motion calling for the adoption of the proposed RPS, saying that the RPS’s biodiversity section and a “section 32” analysis on costs and benefits should be looked at again by the hearings committee. The amendment was defeated although she gained support from councillors Tony Armstrong, Jane Hennebry and Russ Rimmington. When the main motion was put to the vote, Cr Stark, Cr Hennebry and Cr Rimmington voted against.
The proposed RPS will be notified on 2 November. Submitters have a right of appeal to the Environment Court. The appeals period closes on 14 December.