Here is my version of how to start conserving rivers in your district. It's sort of a "how to", with a few bits that you can cut and paste into your own submissions. Basically my aim in writing this is to demystify the legal/planning jargon that goes on in the Regional and District Plan worlds.
If you do not even know what Plans are all about, please get hold of the older newsletters from this year, either through your club or NZRCA, as they explain what they're all about and why its important for us to have our say. This article builds on what I've written previously, and will continue to be build on in subsequent newsletters, and should hopefully make conserving a whole lot easier for all of us!
A lot of the following material I obtained from the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society's "Stop the Bulldozers before they happen". All credit to Forest and Bird- thank you for access to this information. Councils need to know that local people care about their environment. Despite some appearances to the contrary, they like to listen to the local people they represent. In contrast, they sometimes resent being told what to do by "suits from Wellington." Councils need to be encouraged to protect the environment by their local ratepayers, environment and community groups, as well as national organisations like Department of Conservation and Forest and Bird.
In order for kayakers to have a say with what happens to New Zealand's rivers we first need to ensure we are fully informed as to what other people are planning to do to them. According to the lingo of the Resource Management Act this means that we are an interested or affected party and that we wish to be notified of any resource consent applications or regional and district plan changes that effect our playground.
Section 93 of the Resource Management Act assumes that in most cases parties interested in the effects of modification of the environment will be notified. s.94, however, has the potential to be misused and allows parties and councils to get away without notifying interested parties. The intention of this section originally was to provide councils with sufficient flexibility to not notify when notifying is clearly inappropriate. In practice council staff, under pressure from applicants, are using this flexibility to avoid notification as much as possible. As a result interested groups and individuals are regularly prevented from being involved in consent applications through non-notification. Section 94 was never intended to undermine public consultation in this way. The bottom line is, if the council is not notifying applications, they are limiting democracy.
So, to ensure that such misuse does not occur in each region we must make submissions on the Regional and District Plans. Otherwise many activities that are detrimental to our kayaking resources may be underway before we are aware they are being undertaken, by which time it is too late to stop them.
Work out which activities you are prepared to let the council control without general public scrutiny. In respect of activities affecting rivers and access to rivers there are likely to be very few activities that kayakers feel OK allowing to go ahead without any input.
Go to your local District and Regional Councils for a copy of the District and Regional Plans. These plans should spell out in detail the situations in which an application will be not be notified publicly. Where applications are not notified the criteria for deciding who will be notified as an "affected person" must be spelt out.
Assess the policy outlined in the Plan. Does it state that certain activities that you consider impact upon rivers do not require notification? If so it is time for you to write a submission. In your submission indicate which sections you do not agree with, why it is important that they change them and how they should change them.
Here is an example of what Forest and Bird considers to be a good notification policy. Compare this to the one in your plan. You may wish to include this policy in your submission as the policy you suggest the council should adopt.
Possible policies for public notification: "Public notification All consent applications for discretionary and non-complying activities will be publicly notified, unless:
1. the Council is satisfied that the effects of the proposed activity will be minor; and
2. the written approval of all persons or organisations who, in the opinion of Council, may be adversely affected by the proposal, has been obtained.
For the purposes of 1. above, effects will generally not be considered minor if they are likely to involve:
- the clearance or harvesting of any area of naturally occurring native vegetation, for any purpose
- the discharge of any contaminant; or appreciable change in stormwater runoff or quality
- loss or modification of soil structure at any site; or appreciable change to any widely visible landscape
- appreciable change in natural, urban or rural character; or the use of any plant or animal species in a manner that might lead to that species becoming a pest
- appreciable change in pedestrian or vehicular traffic patterns
- modification of any historic site
- restriction of public access to any public track or road, notable landform, native forest or wetland, park or reserve, or natural waterbody
- appreciable change in the quality and/or quantity of the water flowing down rivers.
For the purposes of 2. above, affected persons or organisations include adjoining landowners and local representatives of:
- The Department of Conservation, Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, and Fish and Game Council, where the proposed activity relates to an area of indigenous vegetation.
- Tangata Whenua, where a proposed activity may affect their interests.
- The Historic Places Trust, where a proposed activity may affect an historic building or site.
- Any relevant designating authority.
- Local canoeing clubs and the New Zealand Recreational Canoeing Association where the proposed activity may affect access to rivers and the quality and quantity of water in rivers.
Once you have made a submission to this effect the council has no excuse not to notify your club and the NZRCA when considering any activity that may affect rivers.
Good decisions depend on good information. It is essential that Councils and kayakers know where natural resources are and what is being done to them, so that we can adequately protect their values. This can be achieved through the establishment of appropriate databases and monitoring strategies. Of specific interest to kayakers is the monitering of the natural flow of rivers and the quality of the water.
Councils have been traditionally reluctant to spend money monitoring the environment they help manage. They are often unaware of the natural resources and habitat areas within their jurisdiction. Often environmental degradation goes largely unnoticed, for example if groundwater is not regularly being monitored for chemical pollutants, irreversible contamination may occur before the problem is discovered.
Councils are now required to monitor the environment and the effectiveness of their resource management plans and administration. They should be encouraged to adopt the policies and methods outlined below to ensure that they are fully informed of the river resources in their region and district. In your submission on their plan you could include exactly what is written below:
Policies and methods for monitoring and databases
Monitor natural and biological resources in order to maintain a current database of the natural and biological resources of the area, providing information that will assist the council in undertaking its functions under the Act.
Establish and maintain a database of all natural and biological resources, including the following:
- habitats (areas of indigenous flora and fauna).
- water bodies including wetlands, ponds and streams; and details of riparian vegetation.
- monitor and record the varying flows of rivers and the water quality.
- natural landscapes.
- hazard areas, e.g. areas at risk of inundation during floods.
- potential wildlife habitats and wildlife corridors.
Information to be captured for identified areas or ecosystems will include type, location, condition, abundance, vulnerability, ecological connections, protection status and restrictions on use (these may apply to areas and wildlife).
The database will present information on specific sites in the context of their wider ecological connections, showing the health of each ecosystem type within the ecological district and region. The database will be established with the assistance of the Department of Conservation, relevant environmental and community groups such as canoe clubs and the New Zealand Recreational Canoeing Association, and the general public.
The production of natural resource databases and monitoring of the general environment is a case where a joint effort by district and regional councils is the most efficient.
Under the Resource Management Act Councils have certain obligations to protect the amenity values of rivers. Check that the Plan identifies the correct amenity values for the rivers in your area. They may not be aware of which rivers are valuable to kayakers. It may be necessary to provide them with an inventory.
If your council is not placing any value on the recreational values of rivers point out to them that they are obliged to under the following sections of the RMA:
s.5(2)(c) environment is defined to include 'amenity values' which in turn is specifically defined to include recreation attributes (s.2(1)).
s.7(c) amenity values. Amenity values requires those exercising functions and powers under the Act to have particular regard to the maintenance and enhancement of Amenity values. Amenity values are defined in s.2 of the Act as "those physical qualities and characteristics of an area that contribute to people's appreciation of its pleasantness, aesthetic coherence, and cultural and recreational attributes."
Recreational values have been debated extensively in Water Conservation Order hearings (for example, in the Buller and Kawarau Water Conservation Orders). The Water Conservation Order process provided much key information on what constitutes recreational values for rivers. In addition the New Zealand Recreational Canoeing Association has commissioned its own recreational river survey which assesses specific characteristics and use patterns for whitewater canoeing.
They must have 'particular regard' to the recreational value of a river when considering anything that affects it. If you feel they are not paying enough attention to the river's value, point this out and prove to them just how important it is locally and nationally. If you get to this stage and are still facing resistance please get in touch with the NZRCA for help. (Well, get in touch with us at anytime of course)