Environment Waikato has welcomed the timely completion of a new report on Waikato-Tainui involvement in the future environmental management of the Waikato River.
The report - from the Waikato River Statutory Board Establishment Committee (SBEC) – has today been presented to central Government by the committee.
It recommends that there be no immediate direct transfers of Resource Management Act (RMA) statutory powers from local government to bodies involving the iwi.
The SBEC had equal representation from Waikato-Tainui and local authority representatives, who came from EW, Hamilton City Council, and the Franklin, Waikato and Waipa district councils.
The draft legislation to give effect to the Crown’s river settlement with Waikato-Tainui made provision for statutory power transfers to either a new Waikato River Statutory Board (WRSB), made up of iwi and local government representatives, or the tribe’s Waikato Raupatu River Trust (WRRT).
EW had felt such transfers had potential implications for local democratic oversight of how those powers were exercised and believed considerable detailed work was required to carefully manage transfers.
The SBEC’s report said that for now it recommended the new board and trust had a say in river management through formal joint management agreements or joint agreements. These agreements could then be reviewed every five years to see whether transfers of statutory powers were appropriate.
EW chairman Peter Buckley – who, with EW’s Cr Andra Neeley, was a Crown appointee on the SBEC and acted as co-chair – said he was very pleased with the process that had arrived at the report’s recommendations.
"The work has been done within a very tight timeframe. It is the recommendation of the SBEC – after the highest levels of good faith engagement and consensus decision-making – that the RMA functions and powers of local government concerning the river are subject to joint management agreements between the WRSB or the WRRT and local authorities.
"The SBEC also recommends joint agreements are developed to cover non-statutory areas of local authority RMA work so that either the WRSB or the WRRT can be substantially included and participate in this work."
Cr Buckley noted the SBEC wanted further talks between Waikato-Tainui and local government on how the WRSB and WRRT could be included in river management processes under the Local Government Act.
He said EW councillors had been very pleased to take part in the SBEC’s deliberations as Crown appointees, while EW had also provided the SBEC with technical advice.
"The next step from EW’s perspective will be to formally receive the report and for councillors to form a view on its recommendations.
"EW is committed to working closely with the iwi on the future management of the river. We want a true partnership that enables us to better protect the river, which is a taonga for all cultures in our region."
The WRSB is due to start its work later this year once river settlement enabling legislation is passed by Parliament. If the report’s recommendations are accepted by the Government, it would then be the board’s responsibility to look at the further development of the joint management agreements and joint agreements.