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First blows landed in round one of freshwater plan

THE opening salvos have been fired in the hearings over Gisborne District Council’s regional freshwater plan but the two days of submissions just concluded showed that the real battles might still be ahead.

The five commissioners heard submissions on the regional policy statement objectives and strategic policies section of the plan, along with a section 42A report that responded to some of the 1000 points raised by submitters.

There were signs that the next three stages of the hearing will see the tribunal moving on to the nitty-gritty on specific details covering the quality and quantity of water, and finally the catchment plan for the Waipaoa River.

A number of submitters so far have said they will be back for the next stages and will have more detailed submissions to make.

During the past two days, the commissioners listened to more than a dozen submitters including iwi representatives, environmental organisations such as the Forest and Bird Society and Fish and Game, and commercial interests including Federated Farmers, Horticulture New Zealand and Fertiliser New Zealand.

One of the issues flagged so far is the so-called “unders and overs” provisions that would allow some parts of a waterway to be downgraded if the final overall effect would see it upgraded as a whole.

There were also some early comments about the bands that would govern nutrient levels in waterways.

A number of submitters wanted separate catchment plans for the Waiapu and Te Arai Rivers, and the Waipaoa.

Hearing adjournedAdjourning the hearing, the chairman, independent commissioner Mark Farnsworth, congratulated submitters on their presentations and also congratulated council staff for the quality of the section 42A report and the way the hearings had been organised.

They had flowed very well and allowed the commissioners to develop some concepts and themes.

The commissioners wanted to have a policy and rules regime that was crisp and clear, he said.

The hearing was adjourned until October.

Gisborne District Council planning manager David Wilson said it was intended to bring the commissioners, three independent and two councillors, together for a site visit over two days in September.

This would give the independent commissioners the chance to see some of the things people had been talking about.

They would take them up the coast and to the western area as well.

This first hearing had set the stage for what was to follow and he expected the next two hearings on water quality and quantity would see a lot more detail.

“It is where the rubber meets the road.”

Most submitters plan to appear againAlmost all submitters had said they would appear again at the later hearings.

For the past two days they had been talking about the bands that would determine the level of nutrients that could be found in a waterway.

The next discussion would be how big those bands should be. The limits were set in the national policy statement on freshwater management and the plan would have to work within these.

For the likes of Fertiliser New Zealand, that would say how much fertiliser could go on and that was where it would start to get meaty.

It was nice for staff to hear praise from external agencies for the quality of the material they supplied.

They had worked very hard to produce the regional policy statement.

Wairoa River just upstream from the town in late December 2015. Picture supplied