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Surrendering Local Democracy Just Adds To Stress, Uncertainty

Federated Farmers is deeply concerned by the Otago Regional Council’s decision to surrender vital decisions on regional water and waste plans to an out-of-district hearings body.

"No matter how the ORC tries to sell this, sending these matters straight to the Environment Court or to a panel appointed by Environment Minister David Parker, cuts out crucial community input and robs us of the opportunity for decisions that reflect local knowledge and a local voice," Federated Farmers Otago President Simon Davies says.

Usual Resource Management Act processes are such that general submitters can relatively easily submit to and appear at council hearings without costly legal representation. In comparison, the "called in" processes the ORC is proposing are considerably more formal, stressful and daunting, and typically require legal and expert representation.

"More worrisome, this whole proposal adds even more uncertainty and stress to farmers, who are already overwhelmed with the avalanche of national regulation coming their way at the moment," Davies said.

"Federated Farmers is very concerned that this announcement is within a week or so of the ORC conceding that the Auditor General is now involved in ruling on Council’s overly-strict conflict of interest provisions, which seems to be preventing important votes to be held, and quorums met."

The Council has primarily found itself in this position because of a lack of any real stakeholder engagement over recent years. Plans have been contentious as a result, and once settled there have been real issues with Council’s plan implementation, Davies said.

"We have been frustrated that ORC plans, including the Regional Policy Statement, that have only recently been resolved are now being redone. This comes at considerable costs to ratepayers and will lay increased onuses, costs, uncertainty and stress on resource users.

"That’s certainly not to say that in response Council should be proposing to move even further away from appropriate community engagement and input. Federated Farmers has previously been involved in similar ‘called in’ processes, and these have been stressful and resource intensive for community members and resource users."

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