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Healthy Rivers hearing opens with council submissions

Waikato Regional Council has completed giving its opening evidence to a five-person independent hearings panel on a bold plan to improve the health of the Waikato and Waipā rivers.

The hearing for Healthy Rivers/Wai Ora: proposed Waikato Regional Plan Change 1 began on Monday, with evidence from a range of council staff and advisors concluding today (Tuesday, 12 March).

Panel chair and independent commissioner, Greg Hill, said: “The hearings will take some months and while it is a challenging task, it’s one we’re not shy of.”

He acknowledged there are parties who support and others who oppose some parts of the proposed plan change, and that there are “quite strongly held views”.

In response to this, Mr Hill said: “We propose running an inquisitorial process and to make recommendations that give effect to national direction on freshwater management and the Vision and Strategy – a unique guiding document in the Waikato – as well as the Resource Management Act.”

In response to questioning from the panel on day one of the hearing, council chief executive Vaughan Payne said the council has a submission that “supports the overall intent of the plan” but acknowledged he doesn’t “know of any plan that would be perfect”.

“I can’t stress enough that the hardest part of a journey is taking that first step,” Mr Payne said.

“Our submission seeks to refine the plan to help us implement it. The submission and hearing process will ensure there is additional sector and community input to improve the plan change. My primary interest as council’s CE is that the resulting plan change is both pragmatic and implementable. This is critical,” he said.

The hearing is being held in Hamilton in three blocks, concluding in August 2019. Recordings of each day’s presentations will be available at waikatoregion.govt.nz/the-hearings.

Block 1 will focus on the high level policy framework, with Blocks 2 and 3 considering detailed rules and implementation methods within the plan, such as stock exclusion, farm environment plans, sub-catchment planning and cultivation, slope and setbacks.

This format and the overall timeframe for the deliberations has been designed by the hearings commissioners to ensure appropriate consideration is given to the high number of submissions that have been received and to provide all submitters with an opportunity to be heard at least once. It will also help ensure an efficient process which minimises costs and time for all parties involved.

At the conclusion of the hearings, the panel will make recommendations on the plan change for consideration by the council.

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