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Marine space charging considered as consent issues sorted

Marine space charging considered as consent issues sorted out

First published in Energy and Environment on August 1 2019.

Cabinet has asked for urgent work to be done on charging for the use of space by marine farmers as it moves to deal with resource consent issues.

Ministers have signed off a draft National Environment Standard for Marine Aquaculture ahead of a flood of historic consents coming up for renewal. At present marine farmers do not pay to occupy public space, except for marine farmers in Southland. Cabinet papers say the NES-MA cannot be used to establish a coastal occupation charging regime; however, it would not prevent charges from being imposed if councils already have a charging framework in place.

The paper said officials are initiating an urgent review of how a fair and appropriate charging regime for the occupation of the coastal marine area could be provided for under the RMA.

“Any public messaging on the NES MA will include that a fair and appropriate charging regime will be developed separately which will apply to marine farmers and to others occupying the coastal marine area,” the paper said.

There are 1149 existing marine farms with the majority of these authorised prior to the Resource Management Act coming into force, primarily under the Marine Farming Act. An amendment to the RMA in 2004 deemed these existing leases and licences to be RMA resource consents with a term of 20 years, expiring at the end of 2024.

Largely as a result of this amendment, resource consents for 689 marine farms (60%) expire over the next seven years, with 602 (52%) expiring at the end of 2024.

Ministers have compromised over various issues on the new NES-MA but rejected submissions from the industry for more enabling provisions, for instance through controlled activity status (where the council cannot decline the application). Instead public notification will be restricted, and most consents dealt with on a regional basis.

The NES will also require biosecurity management plans for all existing and new farms by 2025, which was opposed by some of the industry as expensive and complex.

The proposed standard would apply to applications to continue operating existing marine farms, and in most cases would replace the rules already in council plans (subject to some exceptions). The proposed standard would not deal with applications to establish new marine farms, except for the proposed requirement that all existing and new farms have a biosecurity management plan.

The proposed standard would make applications for replacement consents for existing marine farms a restricted discretionary activity, including opportunities for small-scale realignments and changes in approved species, provided the area has not been identified as inappropriate for aquaculture in a regional coastal plan.

It would preclude public or limited notification for most replacement consent applications, except of affected tangata whenua, and where special circumstances and other RMA notification exceptions apply

It also clarifies that consideration of the effects of an existing marine farm on an outstanding area is limited to farms that are partially or fully within an outstanding area.

The replacement consenting standards would not apply to some marine farms in the Waikato and Tasman regions), due to the work already done there.

Several environmental groups wanted more stringent consent activity status. However, the to identify areas of concern as being inappropriate for existing aquaculture and require greater notification there, instead of re-litigating issues on a farm-by-farm basis.

The major cost to both councils and the industry is associated with implementation of biosecurity management plans. The total estimated combined cost to all regional councils ranges from $899,000 to $7.4m. The total estimated costs to marine farmers ranges from $2m to $19.9m depending on whether biosecurity management plans being “area-based” (low cost) and all plans being “farm-based” (high cost).

First published in Energy and Environment on August 1, 2019.

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