Out and About After Lockdown

Updated: Oct 6

One year on – how has it been?

Bodecker Scientific of Alexandra has put together an event to help us increase engagement between ORC councillors and residents. It’s free, but you’ll need tickets. Hopefully it’s the first of many.

Out and about after lockdown

The events and subsequent actions of the past 6 months have made for a hectic time and have also required a bit of reflection as at ORC we changed chairs, struggled to deal with new policy statements and demands from central government, pulled together an approach for the Regional Policy Statement (RPS) and set up a new committee structure.

ORC current status

We have a new chair, Andrew Noone, a new annual plan, the Minister for the Environment overseeing our 3 water plans – Plan Changes 7, 8 and 1, work going on at pace towards a new RPS, work happening on the Long Term Plan, lots of regional transport planning, particularly in Dunedin and Queenstown and discussions beginning on inter-regional transport. We also have a new committee structure to work with and an active role in COVID recovery. I won’t discuss all of this here, but do be in touch if you want to know more.

Plan changes 7,8, and 1

Following notification from the Environmental Protection Agency, a summary of submissions has now been published and further submissions are open until October 2. This document is the summary of submissions. These plan changes will tide us over until the new Land and Water Plan is ready. If you need any help with a submission, ORC has a free ‘friend of submitter’ service available at friend@orc.govt.nz.

Regional Policy Statement

The RPS is top of mind for many planning staff who were breaking speed records trying to get this ready for a November notification date. Fortunately, the minister has agreed to give us another 6 months so notification is now June 2021. It’s no easy task creating this document given the last one was deemed ‘not-fit-for-purpose’ and its incredibly important for the people of our electorate. Earlier this year, expert reference groups were appointed to help inform the process. You can read about their thinking and recommendations in the agenda of our September Strategy and Planning Meeting.

Manuherekia announcement

The Manuherekia river catchment is to get some help from a government programme for ‘at risk’ catchments. If the overall project is successful, the Manuherekia will become an exemplar to inform the restoration of other catchments.

In his press release, Minister Parker says this about it: “… the river is under pressure, with water quality declining and over-allocation of water reducing the minimum flow needed for ecological processes, such as providing habitat for wildlife, and for recreational use.”

While this is all wonderful stuff, isn’t it time to prevent the degradation of these catchments in the first place? I know there’s much work going on to do this, but I’m not sure enough is happening at the input level – both urban (eg development, wastewater) and rural (eg farm runoff, stock in waterways) – which is where the degradation starts.

I’ve enjoyed more tours of our region over the past few months to try and better understand how farmers are responding to what is asked of them by central and regional government. A big thank you to all those who have given time and energy to organise these and to get us out to look at what you deal with each day. It’s really appreciated.

A tour of the Wanaka Catchment showed us a group of landowners and managers working together to collectively lift their environmental efforts and address issues. This group employs a coordinator who is well qualified and independent. He gently works with those who can do better and ensures knowledge is well shared through the group. Their goal is simply to do better, to constantly improve.

Another day we toured the Thompson Creek catchment and looked at the high tech work of farmers in that area.

I’ve toured several catchments now, and notice they seem to organise themselves differently, but all seem to work really well. This organic way of developing catchment groups looks to be a strong model where people work together in different ways to address the issues of their specific catchment. Recognising the success of a local approach to local issues, ORC is to provide more support for these groups.

One dark-of-night tour was designed to show us the sheer scale of the rabbit issue which has become many times worse over the last several years. ORC’s approach of trying to plonk the problem fully onto landowners has been a fail as some landowners do heaps, some do nothing, and rabbits refuse to respect the borders between them. ORC does little in monitoring compliance or enforcement of the issue and I think we are well aware that the approach needs to change. At one point, out the back of Bendigo somewhere, we observed through a thermal imaging lens, a massive mob of rabbits taking off like a flock of birds when startled. The only thing protecting the neighbouring vineyard was a rabbit fence and vigilant controls. That was a sobering evening.

On a field trip we explored the Taieri flood scheme – another sobering moment as we explored the flood banks that are all that stand between many homes and inundation. How will this look 20 or 30 years on as our hydrology changes with the climate?

Long term plan

We’ve started work on the new Long Term Plan (LTP) exploring desired community outcomes and our roles in them. Funding is problematic as we deal with more and more issues and pick up more responsibility from central government. There is of course a limit to how much we can continue to dip into reserves as we have done for this year’s annual plan. We have to think about what we want to do (a whole lot more than we currently do) and how we fund that activity. I am always worried about the phrase ‘reprioritising existing budgets’ as an approach to finance some activity or another. It means some other project won’t get done. We have so much work to do and it needs to be correctly resourced. I was interested in the productivity commission report on funding of local government – we need to significantly lift our game in this area and be willing to fund the work we do. It’s well worth a quick read if you are interested.

QLDC Climate Reference Group

I’ve been appointed to the QLDC Climate Reference Group. The documentation of our GHG emissions is sobering. That will be the subject of a later post. In the meantime, I hope you are all coping well in this crazy world. It’s good to see how many people are working well together, long may it continue.

#Longtermplan #Manuherekia #RPS #Waterplans

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