Items of interest from this week’s meetings of the TRC’s two key committees, Consents & Regulatory, and Policy & Planning:
The two Committees generally meet every six weeks, on the same day. Each is made up of Councillors and external members, including representatives nominated by Iwi.
Wastewater: Region's big picture positive
Further Government regulations would not bring improvements to wastewater treatment in Taranaki any faster than they are already occurring, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. The region’s District Councils have already made, and are continuing to make, considerable investments in the area, and the TRC is doing its job as a regulator by monitoring and publicly reporting on their environmental performance, and taking enforcement action when necessary. A recent Cabinet paper argued that Government action is needed because wastewater management suffers from the absence of clear national guidelines, unacceptable environmental impacts, lack of public reporting, poor consenting practices, little enforcement and inadequate investment and staff resourcing. However, the Committee was told none of this is relevant to Taranaki, where considerable progress has been made, resulting in verified environmental improvements. While environmental incidents still occur from time to time, the number is trending downwards. All such incidents are investigated and appropriate enforcement action is taken, the Committee was told. National regulatory intervention would add no value and the Council will make this case to the Government. The Cabinet paper was released as part of the Government’s Three Waters Review to improve management of freshwater, wastewater and stormwater. A related report to the Committee analysed the wider review and concluded that a one-size-fits-all aggregation of water assets would be strongly opposed.
Seeing the light on Overseer
A new report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) vindicates the Council’s long-held view that the Overseer nutrient management model is unsuitable for use as a regulatory tool, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. The PCE’s December 2018 report found important gaps and shortcomings that limit the regulatory usefulness of Overseer, which was intended and developed as a nutrient budgeting aid for farmers. Similar observations had been made in a 2015 study commissioned by the Council as part of its review of the Regional Freshwater Plan, the Committee was told. Overseer was never designed or intended for use as a regulatory tool, but solely for use at individual farm-management level. Seven regional councils currently make use of Overseer as a regulatory tool in some way. TRC is among the nine which do not use it.
Value of native bush recognised
A fifth of the privately owned native bush in Taranaki now falls under the Council’s voluntary Key Native Ecosystem (KNE) programme and is thus targeted for ongoing protection, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. Eleven new sites have been given KNE designation, taking the total to 276 covering more than 122,000 hectares. Of these, 223 covering 12,743 hectares, are privately owned, representing 20% of the total area of indigenous vegetation in private ownership. The new sites are all privately owned, with six in North Taranaki, one in Stratford District and four in South Taranaki. All KNEs have been assessed as having significant biodiversity value, be it in the habitat they offer, their flora and fauna and/or their proximity to other sites of value. The Council has worked with the owners of 131 KNEs to draw up Biodiversity Plans, under which assistance may be obtained from the Council and other agencies for fencing, predator control and revegetation. Further plans are under development.