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Manawatu council mismanaging fresh water consents, environmental lobby says

Monday 13th February 2017

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The Environment Court is being asked to step in over the Manawatu-Whanganui regional council's management of fresh water, which opponents say contravenes the Resource Management Act and its own plan, and doesn't properly regulate nitrogen leaching from dairy farms.

Wellington Fish & Game Council and the Environmental Defence Society are asking the court to rule that the council must consider the RMA, its regional 'Horizon One Plan', and the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management when assessing resource consents, along with the impact on the environment of effluent discharge.

The council should also have to provide reasons for its consents granted under the One Plan, they say. Both agencies fought the water provisions in the plan in the Environment Court and High Court before it was implemented in 2014. 

Sarah Ongley, lawyer for Fish & Game who presented the two agencies' submission this morning, said evidence provided by the council since proceedings were filed "has in some respects served to heighten the concerns of Fish & Game and EDS."

"The consenting policy adopted for existing intensive land use and conversions is inconsistent with the One Plan and does not allow for proper consideration of the matters over which discretion is reserved," Ongley said. "The internal policy guidance, and the way in which consents have been processed in examples from 2014-2016, is contrary to the act and the One Plan."

Ongley said the council's approach doesn't assess the effect of contaminants that could enter the water for individual consent applications, and doesn't impose a limit on nitrogen leaching for granting consents, and that approach isn't allowed under the RMA nor the One Plan. 

"For resource consenting as well as consideration of plan changes, it is no longer acceptable to make decisions on an undisciplined basis, 'balancing' competing considerations as desired," Ongley said. "Decision making must be closely informed by the relevant policy, and be principled."

In an affidavit, the council's regulatory manager, Greg Bevin, said that the council "cannot and does not have a duty (or the discretion) to impose specific nitrogen reductions on individual farming operations to provide for Schedule B values", which Ongley said represented a fundamental point of difference between the parties and underscored the need to bring the court action. 

The lawyer said if the court grants the declarations sought, and this makes it difficult for an existing farm or conversion to get resource consent outside existing exceptions in the regional plan, that would be consistent with the plan. 

The hearing is set down for five days, and continues this afternoon.

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