Items of interest from this week's meetings of the Council's two key committees, Consents & Regulatory, and Policy & Planning:
Iwi's new waterway assessments welcomed
An iwi assessment of two North Taranaki waterways gives the Council a useful opportunity to engage and learn more about the Māori environmental perspective, the Consents & Regulatory Committee was told. This is of vital importance because the Government’s new freshwater requirements oblige the Council to ‘consider and recognise’ Te Mana o te Wai in freshwater management, and to identify and reflect tangata whenua values and interests in the management of freshwater and in decision-making around freshwater planning. The Committee heard from Ngāti Mutunga representatives, who explained the results of their assessments of the Urenui River and Mimitangiatua River, using the ‘Mauri Compass’ tool that recognises mātauranga Māori in environmental monitoring. The assessments found the mauri of both awa has declined markedly since European settlement, particularly the richness and abundance of species, and the health of tuna (eel) populations. The assessments covered history, cultural traditions and spiritual practices, as well as waterway health and the state of taonga species. A similar assessment is planned for the Onaero River.
Big changes in freshwater approach
Meeting the Government’s new freshwater requirements will be a complex exercise needing significant spending by the Council, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. Details of the impact on Council budgets, charges and rates will be fully discussed and tested during public consultation on the Long-Term Plan early next year. Implementation of the requirements requires work in six areas – planning, consenting, compliance, science services, communications and tangata whenua engagement. And with Councils now required to ‘consider and recognise’ Te Mana o te Wai in freshwater management, there are also likely to be changes in decision-making processes and the development of extra monitoring methods based on mātauranga Māori. Additionally, the Government has appointed a panel of Freshwater Commissioners to have a role in regional planning processes. The Chief Freshwater Commissioner, Prof Peter Skelton, met councillors and Council staff after the meeting to discuss implementation of the new arrangements.
More evidence of freshwater improvements
A broader assessment of the overall ecological health of Taranaki waterways bears out the encouraging results seen in the Council’s dedicated environmental monitoring programme in recent years, the Consents & Regulatory Committee was told. Besides the 57 monitoring sites used solely for state-of-environment monitoring, another 145 sites are monitored as part of consent compliance monitoring programmes. These are reported on separately, but the most recent results have been summarised for the first time, and measured against earlier results to establish trends. The resulting report says a third of the sites show significant improvement and 72% show a positive trend. None shows a significant decline, though 25% show an indication of decline. The report concludes that in general, the Council has set the right level of conditions on resource consents for the activities being monitored, resulting in little impact on freshwater ecological health. The monitored activities include water takes, landfills and wastewater treatment plants, but none in particular appears to show a pattern of particular impacts on freshwater ecological health. The latter is regarded as the prime measure of freshwater quality and is assessed by examining what sort of tiny creatures are living in waterways, using a nationally recognised scoring system known as the MCI (for macroinvertebrate community index).
Poll provision an unnecessary anomaly
The Council will join others across New Zealand in pushing for the removal of the ability for electors to force a ratepayer poll on any proposal by a council to create a Māori constituency or ward. The Policy and Planning Committee supported a recommendation for the Council to formally endorse calls by Local Government NZ for the removal of the poll provisions, which are seen as an anomaly because there is no such provision for any other decision taken by councils. The Committee was told that any objections to Māori representation proposals should be handled by the Local Government Commission, which already handles objections to any other proposals relating to representation arrangements. The Minister of Local Government, the Hon Nanaia Mahuta, has signalled her support for removing the poll provision, and reportedly intends to introduce the necessary amendment this term.