Waikato Regional Council is urging farmers to be vigilant after seven separate court cases found farmers to have unlawfully discharged farm effluent into the environment.
That’s the view of a Government panel appointed by Environment Minister David Parker to comprehensively review the RMA.
In a new ‘options and issues’ paper, the panel chair, retired Appeal Court judge Tony Randerson, says the aim is to prompt discussion of the issues the panel plans to address in its review. And it will promote options designed to assist people making submissions to the panel in the coming months.
Before going into what possible changes may be considered, the report gives an insight into how it sees the RMA is working. For a start, it notes that NZ’s natural environment is under significant pressures.
“Climate change is occurring at an unprecedented rate, our native plants and ecosystems are under threat with land changes degrading soil and water.”
It says urban areas are struggling to keep pace with population growth and rapid changes in rural land use have increased pressure on ecosystems.
In farming areas, water pollution affects almost all rivers and many aquifers, the paper notes.
And the RMA has not sufficiently protected the natural environment. Decisions made through the RMA system have favoured existing users and, in effect, a bias towards the status quo.
The report sets out 14 areas which the panel believes could be addressed and in a sense there are no surprises. These include how Māori values might be better integrated into a future RMA, how to get consistency and better quality planning processes and plans, and seeing whether some incentive system could be devised to get local authorities to collaborate more effectively.
It also asks whether the RMA should have a role in climate change and if so what that might that look like.
For the rural community, the contentious issue of the allocation of resources is noted and the report says in the past this has been run on a ‘first come first served’ basis. It asks whether the role of allocating water should remain within the RMA or be put under another Act similar to fisheries and minerals.
Submissions on the issues and options paper close at the beginning of February.