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'Ground-breaking' Marlborough Environment Plan Ready For Release

Four years, 1300 submissions and almost $3 million later, Marlborough's environment plan is finally complete.

The Marlborough District Council's new environment plan has a chapter on climate change, which could affect many regions, including the Marlborough Sounds. Photo: Chloe_Ranford / RNZ

The Marlborough District Council has confirmed its Proposed Marlborough Environment Plan (PMEP) will be released at noon on February 20 following a pōwhiri at Omaka Marae.

The plan brings three of the region's major management plans into a single document and defines what activities are appropriate in Marlborough's urban, rural and coastal environments.

Councillor Jamie Arbuckle, who sat on the plan's panel, said its completion meant he would "get [his] life back".

"I don't know how other panelists feel, but it's been living with me for the last few years ... It was enjoyable on one hand, but not great on another," he said.

Arbuckle was legally unable to speak on the plan's contents until it was released, but estimated he had spent "over a thousand hours" sitting on hearings, deliberations, or reading submissions.

More than 1300 submissions were made on the environment plan, covering more than 17,500 separate points, a council database showed. Hearings for the plan started in November 2017 at the Omaka Marae and finished in April last year.

A council spokeswoman said the council thought it was "fitting" to end the environment plan process in the place where the hearings first took place.

The environment plan fused together the Marlborough Regional Policy Statement, the Marlborough Sounds Resource Management Plan and the Wairau-Awatere Resource Management Plan. It was expected the new plan would save ratepayers money, as the council would only have to review one plan, instead of three, every few years.

Climate Karanga Marlborough member Budyong Hill said the group was hopeful the plan's release would prompt the council to declare a climate change emergency.

The group had asked the council to follow Nelson, Christchurch and Auckland councils in an emergency declaration last year during annual plan submissions.

"We're looking forward with some anticipation to seeing the final climate change chapter ... We hope that their commitments to climate change recognise the importance of declaring an emergency."

The group was also "very interested" to see what the council would put down to manage the Wairau Aquifer, which provided water to homes in Blenheim, Renwick and Woodbourne, and which research showed was losing volume.

Marlborough Mayor John Leggett said the plan's release would be a "groundbreaking" development among local authorities in New Zealand.

"Others are looking to us now. It's a new way of bringing documents together into a single resource management document," he said.

The pōwhiri would be a "celebration" of the time and effort put in by submitters, council staff, and a "very professionally run panel", he said.

"I think it's going to be a piece of work the council will look back on with a lot of pride in the years to come," Leggett said.

Figures obtained by a local democracy reporter in September showed the PMEP had cost ratepayers about $2.77m. The $70,000 overspend was 2.5 per cent of the original budget, $2.7m. Leggett said he thought the plan was worth the "significant cost".

A financial report presented during a council meeting last June said there were some "higher than budgeted" costs during the environment plan process.

This included higher than expected consultancy, contract, travel and accommodation costs relating to work undertaken for the environment plan, as it had taken "a lot longer than anticipated" to hear all submitters, the report said.

This also included meeting and deliberation expenses that hadn't been budgeted into the environment plan, it said. But these "unfavourable variances", or higher costs, were balanced out by less than expected legal fees and staff costs.

A council spokesman said the public would be able to appeal parts of the plan through the Environment Court, but this would not involve the council. The PMEP would be published to the council website at noon on February 20.

Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the Newspaper Publishers' Association and NZ On Air.

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