Government to step in to resolve planning stoush hampering farmers

Woodhaven Gardens owner John Clarke grows seventeen different vegetables on about 200 acres of fertile soil in the Horowhenua District.

The vegetables are eaten around the North Island and a small amount reach the south.

But there’s currently no consent for this work as the nitrogen run-off and leaching is too great to meet limits set by Horizon Regional Council’s One Plan.

“To some degree, it’s out of our hands, we can only try and introduce the best practices we can and farm according to those,” Mr Clarke said.

Last year, the Environment Court ruled the way the council issued consents was unlawful.

That’s left 155 intensive land users in the Manawatu-Whanganui region, made up of 115 dairy farmers and 40 horticulturists, without consents and waiting for the council to act.

“Of course we’d like to have some certainty around this but I don’t think we can ask to have that straight away,” Mr Clarke said.

The council, Fish and Game and the Environmental Defence Society met with Environment Minister David Parker this year, with the minister hoping to end a ‘stalemate'.

“There’s been no progress made towards the solution despite the fact that the status quo was unacceptable so I’ve tried to intercede and provide some help so that the matter can be resolved,” Mr Parker said.

Mr Parker said the Government will fund lawyers and planners to help the council.

Following calls from the public for a commissioner to be appointed to the council, council chairman Bruce Gordon said he’d made an offer to David Parker to investigate.

“Come in and investigate the processes which our council has followed, the advice that we’ve been given and if we’ve been seen to be lacking in anyway, appoint a commissioner but until that becomes evident that we’ve failed in any way I stand by the fact that our councillors made the right decisions,” Mr Gordon said.

In mid-August the council announced its plan to alter consent regulation.

Mr Gordon said a proposed change to nitrogen limits, due to the OnePlan’s nitrogen allowances being set by out-of-date technology, should see 70 dairy farmers gain consent this year.

“There are people that have got nitrogen limits/leachings that are not going to be acceptable and there’s going to have to be some changes made and yes, I accept that going forward there will be some pain felt by some people within our community,” Mr Gordon said.

The council’s aiming to make further changes to make “a practicable consenting pathway” by the middle of next year at the latest, he said.

There’ll also be further work and community consultation on the council’s freshwater management for seven catchments in the area.

“Of course once we get onto plan change three, yes, it will be running into the millions again – it will be very, very expensive for that third process,” Mr Gordon said.

Mr Gordon said creation of the council’s proposed One Plan in 2007, which was taken to the Environment Court, cost $10 million and the total cost of the latest proposed changes will be impacted by Government resource management changes.

The council’s aiming to have work complete by 2025, in line with the Government policy on freshwater.

At Woodhaven Gardens, flax and grass has been planted near crops to act as a filter for nutrient run-off.

John Clarke’s also using a new test to monitor nitrogen levels in crops as vegetables are growing.

“With the mitigation work that we have planned around silt control and nitrogen use I think, yes, our business is certainly in a lot better place.”

Mr Clarke said he’s trying to take a positive approach to the need for change.

“I can see better things to us, to the environment and to our business out of it.”

Federated Farmers Manawatu/Rangitikei president Richard Morrison said the lobby group is supporting farmers in the area and working with the council on possible solutions.

Mr Morrison said there’s angst and uncertainty in the area with hundreds of farmers, including those without consents and those that will need to re-apply for one in the future, concerned their business won’t be able to continue due to the financial impact of change.

Horizons chairman Bruce Gordon said district councils could also be impacted.

“We’ve got all these upgrades done with wastewater treatment plants, district councils having done the right thing and bought land, done further treatment and applied for a discharge to land that cannot meet the (nitrogen limit) tables,” he said.

Mr Gordon said the council had to find a middle-road on the situation.

“You can’t ignore economic impact and you can’t go 100 per cent the other way either,” he said.

He’s calling for the community to support the council’s proposed changes and affected farmers and growers.

“We’re not about to shut any of our market growers down, it’s just a matter of working through this process and coming out with robust evidence that can vindicate their continuance,” he said.

Environmental Defence Society chairman Gary Taylor said the council needs to hurry up as there’s been no material change to the plan since the “overdue wake-up call” from the Environment Court eighteen months ago.

“It’s not just a question of the council getting itself into compliance with the law, it’s actually providing certainty and clarity to its people,” Mr Taylor said.

He said a reduction of intensive land use is required around the country to be compliant with freshwater limits.

“At present, catchments in the Horizons and in other regions in the country are over-allocated for contaminants… in layman’s terms – pollution.”

He said nitrogen leaching is responsible for algal blooms that kill native fish and lake nitrification.

A spokesperson for Fish and Game said while nitrogen limits will be altered by the council, a complete new plan isn’t necessary.

“What is needed is proper implementation of the One Plan as the Environment Court told it to do,” he said.

This comes after it was found Horizons Council had been issuing consents illegally. Source: 1 NEWS