The number of submitters wanting to be heard has pushed out the date by which recommendations on the Healthy Rivers/Wai Ora plan change will be received by Waikato Regional Council.
The five-member independent hearings panel has told the council it does not expect to conclude hearings until September, with deliberations to follow the hearings. It is likely that recommendations will now be toward the end of the year.
It means the new council – elected in October – will not meet to make a decision on the recommendations until February 2020. The deadline by which the council must make its decision is 30 April 2020.
“Given this council’s knowledge of the plan change, it’s disappointing we won't have the opportunity to consider the recommendations of the hearings panel,” said chair Alan Livingston. “But we’ve been steadfast in our resolve that good decision making should not be rushed.
“Through the induction, I am confident new councillors will have time to be brought up to speed on the process used to develop the rules, as well as to understand what was proposed and changes recommended by the panel,” Cr Livingston said.
More than 1000 submissions were received on Waikato Regional Plan Change 1, which proposed groundbreaking rules to improve the health and wellbeing of the Waikato and Waipā rivers.
“As well as reading the written submissions, it’s likely the commissioners will have heard from more than 450 submitters as well as a number of subject matter experts by the time the hearings conclude,” said council science and strategy director, Tracey May.
“The enormous volume of evidence has to be considered thoughtfully by the commissioners, and they then need time to provide their written recommendations.
“We know farmers in the Waikato and Waipā catchments want certainty as soon as possible around the rules, including the deadlines by which they need to register and provide nitrogen reference points.
“The commissioners and the council are aware of this. But it’s a complex policy and we’ll take the time needed to ensure the best decision possible,” said Ms May.
She added that the delay may also provide opportunities to align with central government freshwater management initiatives.