Conservation Comment: ‘Wellington’ decisions don’t fit right in Whanganui

Conservation Comment: ‘Wellington’ decisions don’t fit right in Whanganui

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Mike Cranstone with poplar poles planted through the SLUI programme. Photo / File

Provincial New Zealand will feel the brunt of many decisions that are currently being made in the offices in Wellington.

The plan that is currently being made for us, and more importantly how they expect to implement their ideas, will cause significant change to communities such as Whanganui. What is frustrating is that the outcomes will fall much shorter of their aspirations than if they consulted and worked in partnership with communities.

The list of ambitious plans of central government intervention include the Essential Freshwater package of regulations, the Zero Carbon Act, an upcoming biodiversity policy, the Three Waters Reform, and most recently the disbanding of district health boards.

The common theme with all these initiatives is that the affected industries or councils have had minimal opportunity for consultation and have been suffocated of information until the last minute.

Not only is there a lack of detail on how these policies will work and be implemented, but there is a woeful lack of financial impact analysis. A board of any business expects management to prepare budgets and risk analysis for any major decisions, so why do we not demand this from our Government and their massive public service workforce?

The Essential Freshwater Regulations that were released last year are full of prescriptive nationwide rules and minimum bottom lines that must be achieved. They ignore that waterways throughout regions, let alone the country, have their unique environmental challenges, and a remedial action in Northland may not be appropriate in Southland.

With the lack of local consultation, it is no surprise that the implementation of these regulations has turned out to be unworkable. The compromise is that the enforcement of the rules around winter grazing has been deferred by 12 months.

In the interim a group of industry bodies and farmers though out the country has further developed best practice recommendations suited to their local issues.

Catchment groups are widespread throughout New Zealand; these are driven by farmers and their communities to understand and make positive environmental change. Farmers have used their innovative DNA, skills and passion to fine tune the way they farm to become the most efficient food producers in the world. In the last decade, their focus has not just been on efficient production but also how to reduce any impact on the environment.

It is disappointing that it appears this Government so often only listens to a vocal minority and does not consult and understand what progress is under way before forcing on the country its stiff hand of regulation.

Every regional council has its own land and water plans, identifying high risk activities and outlining the consenting process to protect and to make achievable improvements in their region’s environment.

The key is that these plans have been created with proper consultation, a submission process that usually makes solutions workable and a viable path for businesses to adapt to be able to reach the consents requirements.

Now, the hundreds of millions of dollars and many years of consultation are wasted, with every regional council now having to rewrite their plans by 2024. The cost is astronomical, the double-digit annual rate rises in councils’ long-term plans is just breaking the surface of what will be required.

Horizons Regional Council’s Sustainable Land Use (SLUI) programme is a successful partnership between farmers, regional council and the Government.

There is no regulatory compulsion for farmers to be involved, but they have been proactive, and the programme has 800 farm plans covering 575,000 hectares of highly erodible land in the region. The highest risk land areas are identified on each farm and mitigation and environmental work is recommended. Whether it be poplar pole planting or retirement, there is funding available, but at least 50 per cent of the cost is paid by the farmer.

The programme is 14 years old, and modelling has shown that work completed so far should reduce the sediment loading in our rivers by 27 per cent and improve clarity by 29 per cent by 2043.

However, climate change is predicted to change our annual rainfall patterns which will increase the erosion risk of our hill country. The Government’s response to this is critical for Whanganui, since 79 per cent of our farmed land area is deemed to be erosion-prone.

A partnership approach to achieving solutions will protect the economic prosperity of regional towns; blanket regulations will cause significant collateral damage. Whether it is freshwater, the Three Waters or health reforms, Whanganui must understand what the potential downside could be and be staunch in lobbying for what’s best for our district’s future.

• Mike Cranstone is president of Whanganui Federated Farmers

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