It's a dog’s breakfast. That’s how Bruce Gordon, chairman of Horizons Regional Council (HRC) in the lower North Island is describing the One Plan as it’s been handed to them by the Environment Court.
In theory it was a good idea to amalgamate a number of regional plans into an omnibus version and deal with the region’s water quality.
Sadly for everyone it’s been an unmitigated disaster, with council staff and interest groups including farmers unable to agree on a sensible approach, paving the way to court hearings and decisions.
The biggest winners are the lawyers and other experts brought in to support the positions of the groups paying them. The losers are the ratepayers who have paid a high price over ten years for something that, according to the Environment Court, is not right.
The council says in its media release on this latest chapter that “it may not have got it completely right”. That is 100% correct and they have to carry the can for the ongoing mistakes with the One Plan.
Neither staff nor councillors have helped the situation and the Environment Court has been left to sort out the mess. Sadly the court has added to the muddle.
The trouble was that the council pursued its plan’s intended approach even when it saw it would be unworkable. The council’s implementation plan was an attempt to try to make it work, but legally they have been found wanting.
Many of the staff involved in developing the plan have since left the council, leaving others to implement their work; interestingly, some of the former staff were involved in the recent court case, presenting evidence for the Environmental Defence Society and Fish and Game against the council.
Farmers and other land users have every reason to feel aggrieved, having been let down by an imperfect system and, unlike the legal eagles who still get paid for stuff-ups, they have to bear the costs.
This latest chapter must be on the radar of the Minister for Local Government. Is Horizons up to it or is there a case for a commissioner to sort out the muddle? By and large Horizons does a good job, but if it doesn’t get the One Plan sorted soon a commissioner may well be knocking on its door.
Meanwhile the environment is no better for this multi-million dollar muddle.