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Published: 2017-02-27 18:00:00

Extending the period for submissions on the Healthy Rivers Wai Ora Plan Change 1 could be counter-productive to the interests of rural sector groups, says Waikato Regional Council chief executive Vaughan Payne.

He was commenting on a media statement today by Horticulture New Zealand claiming council “delay tactics” over a court application by Horticulture NZ and five other groups for an extension to the 8 March deadline for submissions on the plan change. The court application relates to an area in north Waikato temporarily being withdrawn from the plan change due to Hauraki iwi consultation requirements.

It’s hoped the possibility of an extension for this and other reasons can be considered by the Healthy Rivers Wai Ora committee before the 8 March deadline.

Mr Payne said staff would be recommending no extension to the committee. “Such an extension could actually be against the interest of rural sector groups. A decision on the plan change needs to be made within two years of it having been publicly notified last October.

“If we delay closing off the submissions on 8 March this will leave less time for us to work with submitters on resolving any issues prior to public hearings due to get underway late this year or early 2018. We want as much time as possible to do this before the two year deadline for a decision on the plan change is up.

“We indicated to Horticulture NZ before they filed their court application that we would rather spend our energies working with them to resolve issues than getting tied up in legal battles. But they and the others went ahead anyway.”

Mr Payne stressed that it had been known since September last year that there was an 8 March 2017 deadline for submissions, four times the usual period required under the Resource Management Act.

“The council and river iwi partners have been more than generous on this front. Another extension to the submissions deadline simply leaves us less time to work with submitters to get alignment on common issues and present a united position to the hearings commissioners.”

Meanwhile, it is expected that Hauraki iwi views on the withdrawn north Waikato area will be able to be incorporated into the plan change process by June. The area was withdrawn after Hauraki raised concerns that it hadn’t been consulted properly.

Discussions are currently underway to take account of Hauraki’s views with the expectation that the area in north Waikato in question will be re-integrated into the plan change process so that further submissions can be made on both the current plan change and the Hauraki-relevant parts before full hearings scheduled for late 2017/early 2018.