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Delays Expected For Resource Planning Process


Resource consent processing in Canterbury - delays expected given pressure on water
Environment Canterbury says that resource consent processing delays can be expected given the pressure the water resource is under in Canterbury combined with high employment country-wide.

“Not only is the number of consents we are receiving increasing, assessing the effects of what is proposed is also becoming more complex with more intensification of farming practices and water in Canterbury at its sustainable limits,” said ECan chief executive Dr Bryan Jenkins.

He was responding to a recent media report on delays related to a North Canterbury dairy farmer seeking to expand from 1900 to 2,200 cows. In order to provide the cows with pasture, the farmer needed resource consents for wells to increase irrigation on his South Eyre Rd property, 20 kms from Kaiapoi.

“It is the role of consenting authorities to protect existing water-users as well as the health of groundwater and nearby river water. At times, this can extend applications beyond statutory timeframes,” Dr Jenkins said.

“ECan acknowledges that there is pressure on the number of experienced resource consents staff available to process consents. But regardless of this, the need to uphold environmental bottom lines remains and is even more essential in a resource-stretched environment,” Dr Jenkins said. ECan had been proactive in recruiting consents staff from overseas with 16 of 55 consents staff currently from outside New Zealand. External consultants are also used but their availability is limited by the same factors creating pressure for ECan, he said.

“Farmers who are aware of the need for their operations to be sustainably managed provide us with thorough and complete applications, which minimise processing times. ECan will not make consent decisions until it thoroughly understands how the applicant will manage the activity, the receiving environment, and the risks to the environment and other parties. Under the Resource Management Act, the onus is on the applicant to provide that information.”

In the Kaiapoi dairy expansion case, the Eyre River groundwater zone where it is located is graded as “yellow” which indicates that current allocations account for 80-100% of the groundwater zone limit. This means that any application for large amounts of water for irrigation had to prove it would have no or minimal effect on existing users’ access to water. The effects of dairy farming and nitrates leaching from effluent into nearby groundwater also needed to be taken into account. The area around Kaiapoi and downstream of the farm in question has many lifestyle blocks which relied on groundwater wells for drinking water.

Dr Jenkins said the North Canterbury application had been incomplete in a number of areas and where statutory timeframes had been increased from 20 to 40 days, the applicant had been made aware of this.

Applicants needed to build these sorts of timeframes into their long term business planning and be prepared to be turned down if the application was in a zone where the available water was limited or if they could not prove their water use would not adversely affect the environment or existing water users, he said. Even when consents are granted, conditions had to be incorporated which protected the environment and existing users.

With regard to dairy effluent consents, ECan is being proactive in:

o providing consent application packs (“When the cows come home”)
to assist new applicants in producing a good application first time
o publicising the need to apply for dairy shed consents early to help manage the processing workload
o offering one-to-one sessions to go through an application prior to it being lodged, and
o revising the dairy application form to streamline the process.

Timeline/details of Kaiapoi application, referred to in Press March 29, 2008, as provided by ECan consents staff:

Arjen Schouten (Peter Schouten appeared in the newspaper article) has a number of consent applications in process at ECan - to install multiple bores (ie wells), to use groundwater for irrigation from those wells, for effluent storage and for effluent discharge.

The two groundwater applications were received on February 12, 2008, however they were not complete so were returned to Mr Schouten. The amended and completed applications were received and formally receipted on February 22.

The bore application was granted last week. This is relevant to the water take and use consents as until the bore consent was granted and the exact location and depth determined it is difficult to properly assess the effects of the proposed water takes. These are in process, and are well advanced and the main concern is whether the water use will affect other consented water takes in the immediate area.

Mr Schouten was advised at acknowledgement of his application, that ECan would be doubling the normal time frame of 20 working days to 40 working days given the heavy workload. ECan is now at day 26 of that process and assuming that there are no problems in assessing the application further given the information supplied by Mr Schouten's technical consultants, they should be decided within the 40-day time frame.

The two effluent applications were received in October 2006.

The environment in question is a sensitive one, given it is adjacent to the Eyre River, and on land with a potential flooding risk. The effluent applications did not properly or accurately address the environmental effects of the proposed effluent and storage discharges. A formal request for more information was sent to Mr Schouten’s consultant in January 2007. After considerable prompting from ECan, seven months later the consultants provided more details, but insufficient flooding risk information. This has still not been provided, and the applicant is in disagreement that flooding is a risk that the Council should take into consideration.

Environment Canterbury has offered considerable advice and assistance from a senior resource planner to assist Mr Schouten mitigate the flooding risks. However, the effluent consent application remains stalled with the ball in Mr Schouten’s court.

For Peter Schouten to suggest in the newspaper report that ECan has been the sole source of delays to his proposed dairy expansion is incorrect.


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