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Question now is what appeals might come on freshwater plan

Opinion Piece

The freshwater plan adopted by Gisborne District Council last week will bring huge change to the agricultural, forestry and horticultural sectors.

Creating the plan was a monumental exercise. It is the first of its kind in the country.

After five years of stakeholder meetings, it was finally publicly notified in October 2015. Four hearings began in August 2016, considering issues like water quantity and quality, a regional policy statement and a Waipaoa Catchment plan. The process of dealing with 2500 points of submission has taken a year.

Chairman of the independent hearings panel Mark Farnsworth travelled from Northland last week to deliver the massive report. While he maintained his usual restrained and co-operative approach, he delivered a blunt message.

The plan represented a paradigm shift. The status quo was not an option, he said.

The bottom line was that stock and forestry slash had to come out of rivers. If the council did not act, the government would impose upon them, he said.

It was no longer a case of councils telling landowners they were doing things wrong. Instead, landowners would have to demonstrate their actions were not damaging the environment.

One of the big impositions for some landowners - those with intensive grazing, annual cropping or vegetable growing - will be the need for farm management plans that show how they intend to control their waterways. These will be required from 2021. For this district that is where the rubber hits the road and, despite assurances to the contrary, there is concern.

It is notable that Bill Burdett, a farmer on the East Coast, was the only councillor to vote against approving the plan.

The council itself will be forced to make adjustments because the plan has an impact on its rights for emergency discharges into city rivers.

The appeal period for the plan has begun, extending to September 29. The big question now is whether Federated Farmers, DoC, iwi, forestry and horticultural interests, who were major submitters at the hearings, will all accept the decisions in the plan.