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Further Clarity Needed On Government’s Wetlands Regulations

Waikato Regional Council is calling for further clarity to proposed amendments to wetland regulations as part of the Government’s ‘Essential Freshwater’ package.

The Government released Managing our wetlands: A discussion document for consultation last month, which responds to issues raised by various stakeholders and partners on the implementation of the wetland regulations in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 (NPS-FM) and National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES-F).

The issues predominantly related to interpretation difficulties with the current definition of ‘natural wetland’ and the lack of consent pathways to enable certain activities and developments.

The Strategy and Policy Committee today endorsed the council’s submission on the discussion document.

Committee Chair Pamela Storey said there had been endless questioning of the proposed regulations to date and it was important for the Ministry for the Environment to get on top of any ambiguities.

“A significant amount of the regional council’s work goes into working with iwi and landowners to stop the degradation and loss of wetlands, and to restore them,” Cr Storey said.

“While there’s been an attempt to improve the consistency and clarity of the provisions by the Government, further work is required. It’s critical to remove any ambiguity that remains. It’s important that our landowners and our communities have clarity on what they can and can’t do, and where and when consents are needed.

“While it can feel frustrating to be in an environment of constant reform and submissions, it is essential to have a regional voice in these matters to ensure we’re standing up for both the environment, as well as the people who operate within it.”

The council’s draft submission expresses overall support for the amendments but makes specific recommendations on the definition of ‘natural wetland’, particularly how it relates to constructed wetlands, flood scheme land, the coastal marine area and pasture. The submission also makes recommendations on proposed consenting pathways for quarries, fills, mining and urban development to ensure that the regulations are clear and enable the council to protect wetlands, manage and limit adverse effects and continue to meet its obligations under the Resource Management Act.

The NPS-FM aims to embed long-term change through regional plans, including policies to restore wetlands, and the NES-F sets out the consenting pathways for certain activities in and around wetlands.

These documents are the main sources of national direction and rules regarding how natural wetland ecosystems should be managed.

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