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ORC To Request Ministerial ‘call In’ Of Upcoming Plan Changes

The Otago Regional Council (ORC) voted today to request that Minister for the Environment Hon. David Parker exercise his authority to ‘call in’ upcoming proposed plan changes to the Regional Plan for Otago: Water and Regional Plan for Otago: Waste and refer them either directly to the Environment Court or to a Board of Inquiry.

If the Minister agrees to the request, the “Water Permits” plan change and “Water Quality” changes to the Water and Waste Plan, after notification and submissions, will be referred directly to the Environment Court or to a Board of Inquiry of up to five members appointed by the Minister.

ORC Chair Marian Hobbs said the move would assist with delivering the necessary plan changes in a more timely manner, without repetition, which would provide some certainty for those who take water or undertake activities that have the potential to impact water quality.

“ORC has adopted an intensive work programme to establish a fit-for-purpose freshwater planning framework in the next few years, culminating in the notification of a new Land and Water Regional Plan by the end of 2023. The Water Permits and Water Quality plan changes are necessary interim steps in that larger programme.

“The standard process for a plan change can take years to complete, assuming there are appeals to the Environment Court and beyond. Having a plan change called in by the Minister restricts appeals to the High Court on points of law, while still allowing the community to make submissions and speak at hearings.”

Cr Hobbs said, “This decision was discussed with heart around the Council table. We recognise that this may be a decision the public views as taking the plan changes out of local hands, but in the interests of getting through these processes efficiently so that our communities may avoid extra cost and uncertainty, a majority of Councillors felt making this request to the Minister was best for all.”

If the Minister agrees to the request, he will call in the plan changes after they are notified at the end of March.

“We want to stress that, if called in, the community maintains all rights to have their say on these plan changes, to submit evidence and to speak to their submissions at a hearing,” Cr Hobbs said.

In addition to being a faster process, Cr Hobbs said a call in would enable staff and the community to focus on the bigger picture.

“These plan changes are interim steps, and having the Minister call them in will allow ORC and the wider community to focus on the bigger picture of developing a new Land and Water Regional Plan.”

Cr Hobbs will now write to Minister Parker to formally request that he considers calling in the Water Permits and Water Quality plan changes.

Background:

The Water Permits plan change creates a simplified resource consent process to manage expiring water permits and deemed permits (historic water permits granted for gold mining) in the short term, while a new planning framework is developed for how freshwater is taken and used. This plan change was recommended by Minister Parker following a review in 2019.

The Water Quality plan change is a proposed plan to strengthen our water and waste regional plans and align them to central government water quality regulations and policy. ORC are proposing several changes and additions to these plans to provide short-term solutions until the new Land and Water Regional Plan is in place.

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