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Published: 2006-06-29 00:00:00

Environment Waikato finalised its Long-Term Council Community Plan for 2006-2016 today, following extensive public consultation and discussion.

The LTCCP describes all the work the regional council will do over the next 10 years, outlining plans for managing the Waikato’s natural resources, transportation network, flood control schemes and other projects.

It also sets out Environment Waikato’s response to community expectations for the future of the region, and includes considerable public feedback gathered during both the drafting stage and official submission period. A total of 433 submissions covering more than 1000 different topics were received following the release of the draft plan in March.

“The number and variety of submissions we received reflects the scale of the work we do,” said Environment Waikato Chairman Jenni Vernon.

“The challenges we face are complex, but the message is simple: a healthy and prosperous society depends on a healthy environment. Our natural resources – clean air, fresh water, healthy soils, predator-free forests and attractive beaches – are what powers our region’s economic, social and cultural growth. However, these essential resources aren’t inexhaustible and it’s our job to help sustainably manage them so our region’s prosperity and growth can continue for the long-term.”

Key projects set out under the 10-year plan include:

  • ensuring agriculture is undertaken in a sustainable way
  • taking a proactive approach to reducing flooding risks in the region
  • ensuring water is allocated fairly to all users
  • improving the Waikato’s roading and transport network
  • reviewing and updating the council’s Regional Policy Statement, an overarching document that guides Environment Waikato’s work and sets out its objectives.

The LTCCP also includes new moves to make Environment Waikato’s rating system fairer:

The cost of keeping our harbours, lakes and rivers safe for all users will now be funded through a uniform annual general charge, rather than a general rate based on capital value. These services are linked to people, rather than property.

A differential general rate has been adopted to smooth the effects of different re-valuation schedules in districts across the region. The property values Environment Waikato uses to set its rates are supplied by district councils, who decide how often properties in their district will be re-valued. Unfortunately, re-valuations are not synchronised across the region. In effect, the new rate will do away with the “winners and losers” based on whose property was re-valued in a particular year.

Many land use activities in the region can be undertaken without a resource consent, but there is a need to monitor the impact these permitted activities have on the environment. Rather than putting that cost onto general ratepayers, Environment Waikato is introducing a new targeted rate of $33.30, which will be charged to all properties two hectares or larger, where these activities are most likely to occur.

Activities that require resource consents also need to be monitored so their cumulative impact on the environment can be understood. In the past, less than half the total cost of carrying out this work was being paid by those who benefit from resource use – the consent holders. Under the new LTCCP, a greater proportion of the monitoring costs will be charged to consent holders, shifting $550,000 from the general rate.

Chairman Vernon said managing expenses was a high priority for the council.

“Environment Waikato has a large and complex region that we must manage. However, we know people are concerned about the combined cost of local and regional rates and we always look for ways to work efficiently and keep rates down.

“Your rates will vary depending on several factors like the size and location of your property, what work Environment Waikato does in your area and how your property values have changed. However in general across the region, last year most people paid less than $350 in rates to Environment Waikato and this year the increase for most people will be less than $30.”

Chairman Vernon said the council had listened carefully to all feedback from the community and had made a number of changes to the draft LTCCP as a result of the consultation process.

“Residents of Graham’s Creek in Tairua, for example, expressed concern about a proposal to divert a stream away from houses to reduce flooding risks. As a result of their submissions, that proposal has been withdrawn and other actions preferred by the community will be undertaken.

“We appreciate the time and effort all submitters have put into sharing their views with us and we thank them sincerely for their contribution to the long-term planning process.”