TRC Bulletin - 28 July 2016

Items of interest from today's meeting of the Council's Policy and Planning Committee:

River water a nod to farmers' efforts

A NIWA study has shown that river quality in farming areas is in better shape nationally than at urban sites, with predominant signs of improvement across most measures.  The study was presented at the recent Taranaki Regional Council Policy and Planning meeting, and generally rated national river health as “excellent” at natural sites, “good” at exotic forestry and pastoral sites, and “poor” at urban sites. The news was seen as a nod to prolonged efforts to improve pastoral water quality, with Director—Resource Management, Fred McLay, saying, “The key here is that both councils and farmers are obviously doing something pretty successful to see the gauges heading in that direction.

The study examined and compared national trends and the state of water quality within each land use. Taranaki’s rivers – classified as Lowland Pastoral – were about the middle of the pack for quality, but with better overall trends. Water quality at the region’s pastoral sites was better than at equivalent national sites on measures of clarity and forms of nitrogen, and relatively poorer only for dissolved phosphorus, which is naturally high in Taranaki.

Pros and cons in climate change

Climate change could increas the risk of droughts.

Climate change could increas the risk of droughts.

Climate change could bring opportunities for Taranaki, it was suggested at the recent Policy and Planning meeting at the Taranaki Regional Council. The topic was discussed following the Ministry for the Environment’s June release of the ‘Climate Change Projections for New Zealand’report.

Policy Analyst Denise Young said projected changes in Taranaki include a slight temperature increase of between 0.7 and 3.1 degrees warmer by 2090, along with a rainfall increase of 5-9%. There is also increased risk of erosion, landslides, droughts, severe flooding, invasive pests and weeds, sub-tropical diseases and changed ecosystem composition. “In Taranaki we may lose our herb fields on the alpine ranges and see an increase in rats and stoats because they won’t have the winter dieback,” she said.  On the bright side, people might have fewer colds and the opportunity to grow new crops.

Councillor Neil Walker said residents needn’t be entirely pessimistic about the outlook. “There are opportunities which will be there, and they are going to be very positive for our district. There’ll be just as many opportunities with the different climate.”  

Extra punch for possum plans

The Government’s plan to create a predator-free New Zealand by 2050 was discussed with interest by councillors at the recent Policy and Planning meeting at the Taranaki Regional Council.

The subject was raised during a discussion about the Council and Department of Conservation’s upcoming possum control operation on and around Egmont National Park. DOC will do aerial drops over the mountain, while the Council will do pest control on about 15,000 surrounding hectares using “a range of traps and poisons”, says the Council’s Director—Operations, Stephen Hall.

The target is a reduction of possum levels to 3%. The present ring plain trap rate is 6-7%, whereas an area with no possum control might see a 25-35% catch rate, he said. In regards to the Government’s plan, Mr Hall said there was a great deal of talk around it and Taranaki is well placed to build on its very successful Self-Help Possum Control Programme. “Watch this space.”

Plenty of heart in marine claim

Ngāruahine has taken another step to get protected customary rights and customary marine title along the coastline of its rohe. “Working with the Crown is a slow job, I can tell you”, hapū leader and former Treaty settlement negotiator Daisy Noble conceded as she took the Taranaki Regional Council Policy and Planning Committee through the details of Te Korowai o Ngāruahine’s application to the Crown.

Her perseverance resonated with a number of councillors, with Neil Walker remarking, “You’re quite a famous figure in Taranaki. You have fought various battles for many years and it’s really satisfying to get to this point where some of these things are coming to pass.”

Te Korowai o Ngāruahine’s application covers the common marine and coastal area that lies between the Waihi Stream and the Taungatara Stream in South Taranaki, and does not exclude the public from accessing any part of that area unless it is to protect wahi tapu sites. As part of the process, Te Korowai o Ngāruahine is engaging with and briefing third parties affected by the application, including the Council. “This is something that, like the Treaty Settlement, is absolutely close to my heart,” said Ms Noble.        

Talk of the towns

The Taranaki Regional Council has argued against a “one-size-fits all” national approach to urban housing planning as an unnecessary burden to Taranaki taxpayers.

The Government’s proposed National Policy Statement on Urban Development Capacity (NPS-UDC) would see both the Regional Council and New Plymouth District Council doing NPS-related monitoring and assessments, imposing duplication and unnecessary costs, councillors were told at the Regional Council’s recent Policy and Planning meeting.

The Council has a limited role in land use planning and is confident that the area’s district councils are successfully managing urban growth for future needs. “They’ve been doing a very good job with their various strategies,” said Director—Resource Management, Fred McLay. The Regional Council worked closely with all the district councils, particularly the NPDC, in responding to the proposal – “all the councils working together for a constructive outcome, which is not common around the country,” said Mr McLay.

Minister for the Environment Nick Smith will decide whether to approve the NPS after considering recommendations and public submissions.

A one-stop soil shop

The Taranaki Regional Council moved to “kill bureaucracy” at its recent Policy and Planning meeting.

It had been asked by the local district councils to take over their National Environmental Standard for contaminated soil functions, powers and duties in relation to landfarming, mixed bury cover, surface application and similar contaminant remediation given the natural fit and Regional Council’s comprehensive regulatory regime. Councillor Neil Walker said, “You could say it’s an exercise in killing bureaucracy. People will only have to go to one shop, rather than several.” 

A transfer would also provide regulatory efficiencies for landfarm operators, address the issue of controlling stock on landfarms, and utilise the Council’s existing regulatory framework. A draft transfer agreement has been received and reviewed, and is being modified. The district councils now need to run a public process on the transfer.