An independent review has found that Waikato Regional Council’s evidence gathering processes are “appropriate, robust, lawful and up to date”.
It also says the council uses best practice when making enforcement decisions after investigations have been completed.
In May this year the council initiated a review of how non-compliance with the Resource Management Act was investigated and dealt with by the council. It followed criticisms of council enforcement actions from some quarters.
The findings of the review panel – headed by Wellington solicitor Tom Gilbert and including representatives from sectors like farming, iwi, regulators, transport and energy – were presented to the council by Mr Gilbert today.
He told councilors that between 1400 and 1500 potential or actual breaches of rules were dealt with each year by the council’s resource use directorate.
Formal enforcement action in response to these cases was “very low” as a percentage of the total. This represented a “conservative” approach, he said.
The size of fines handed down by the courts after the limited number of successful prosecutions showed that judges were taking council initiated cases seriously.
“The reality is that council does enforcement really well. It might not always be popular but that’s obviously not the point.”
Mr Gilbert added that in fact the council’s investigative processes were nationally leading edge and compared very favourably to some other regulators.
“The public should have confidence the right matters….are being prosecuted.”
The review panel made a number of technical recommendations and councilors agreed to these being implemented by staff.
Councillors are also looking to set up a working party to develop a formal enforcement policy recommended by the panel.