Water users frustrated as ORC torpedoes local decision-making

May 8, 2020 

As if there wasn’t already enough stress and economic hurdles facing the region, the Otago Regional Council has added to the uncertainty. 

The submission period closed on the ORC’s Proposed Plan Change 7 on water permits on Monday.  However, because Council notified the plan change, and then asked the government to call it in, there’ll be another whole round of submissions once the Environmental Protection Authority renotifies it, which is frustrating to impacted resource users.

Federated Farmers - like most, if not all, other rural representatives - has opposed PC7.  

“We said in our submission that it fails on tests of cost-effectiveness, fairness, adequate consultation, and consistency with existing policies,” Federated Farmers Otago President Simon Davies says.

The Resource Management Act requires that the benefits, costs and risks of new policies and rules on the community, the economy and the environment be clearly identified and assessed.

“The ORC has not met these clear expectations and requirements.”

Davies says PC7 introduces considerable uncertainty and costs for water users, who now face the choice of inadequate short-term (maximum 6-year) consents, or onerous hurdles and costs to try to get a non-complying activity consent, which even then can only be up to a maximum of 15 years.

“Water users needing a consent under PC7 need certainty around the ability to service financing and repay debts.   What’s proposed hampers that certainty and the reliability of the water accessed, never mind putting at risk what investment they’ve already put into planning for such new developments.

“So we end up with restrictions on possible growth in the region in the next six years.  As we said in our submission, economic impacts on businesses flow on to employees and communities, and thus the wider region and economy.”

It’s not that good for the environment either.

“Given the lack of certainty and bankability, it will severely limit the ability of farmers and growers to invest in better water storage, more efficient irrigation and the like.

“The environment loses.  In short, Plan Change 7 hasn’t provided us with any steps forward,” Davies says.

“There are a lot of other reasons why PC7 is faulty, not least that as a region we’d just settled a suite of planning instruments, developed at considerable expense to ratepayers.  Now we’re going backwards, and control of our own destiny has been ceded to a bureaucracy in Wellington.”

Federated Farmers will be keeping a close eye on the ORC’s current trend of passing everything out of local hands and into those of central government.

 “That’s not what we elected our representatives to do,” Davies says. “Neither is it what ratepayers pay Council staff to do.”

While Council may be freeing up the workload falling on them, it is heaping the burden onto resource users, who now have to submit, or resubmit on a constant stream of redrafted plans coming their way.

“It certainly makes you question what ORC has been up to over recent years.”