Part 4: Do Regional Policy Statements and Regional Plans meet our expectations?

Horizons and Otago Regional Councils: Management of freshwater resources.

In this Part, we discuss the Regional Policy Statements and Regional Plans of the Horizons Regional Council and the Otago Regional Council, and whether these planning documents meet our expectations in relation to the management of freshwater.

Our expectations were based on the planning requirements of the RMA, and published guidance material on best practice (see paragraph 1.11). We also received input from our external advisors, and consulted with planning practitioners.

Our expectations for planning documents fall into 3 categories:

  1. The adequacy of guidance provided in planning documents – including the usability of the planning documents, whether they provide a framework for freshwater resource management in the region, and if roles and responsibilities between regional councils and territorial authorities are clearly explained.
  2. The composition of objectives, policies, methods, and ERAs, and how these measure against best practice.
  3. Compliance with the RMA – including whether Iwi Management Plans17 have been taken into account, and if planning documents set out procedures to monitor the effectiveness and efficiency of policies or methods contained in them.

Do planning documents provide guidance for the management of freshwater resources?

Regional Policy Statements and Regional Plans for water management set out how the water resources of a region will be managed, and establish provisions for both resource use and environmental protection and enhancement.

We considered how well these planning documents provide guidance for the management of water resources in the Manawatu-Wanganui and Otago regions – in particular:

  • the usability of the planning documents;
  • the identification of environmental values;
  • the development of a water allocation framework;
  • how water quality issues are addressed; and
  • the clarification of roles and responsibilities between regional councils and territorial authorities.

Are Regional Plans usable?

A clearly understood relationship between issues, objectives, policies, and methods allows council staff to effectively prepare action plans to implement the policies and methods outlined in the Regional Plan. It also helps to ensure that the action taken will lead to progress in addressing the issues identified.

Regional plans also need to be accessible to the community so that resource users can determine which activities are allowed under the Regional Plan, require resource consents, or are prohibited.

Our expectations

Because Regional Plans can have a significant effect on a community’s well-being – for example, on its recreational activities and economic needs – we expected that the plans would clearly outline for the community:

  • the water management problems that need to be addressed (issues);
  • followed by what is intended to be achieved by the resolution of the problems (objectives); and
  • then an outline of what the regional council will do to address the problem (policies, methods, and rules).

Our findings

The Horizons Regional Council has produced 6 regional plans – 4 of which relate to freshwater management, and 2 to specific catchments. Some stakeholders in the Manawatu-Wanganui region said that there is conflicting information both between and within plans, and that it can be confusing to have many plans. The Horizons Regional Council has acknowledged this point of view and is responding with its One Plan.

The Otago Regional Plan: Water is a large document (466 pages). In our view, it is not easy to follow the document’s flow from issues, objectives, policies, and methods to ERAs. It is difficult to determine how specific issues will be addressed by the policies and methods because there are multiple links between issues, objectives, policies, and methods. Some stakeholders also said that they struggled to make sense of the plan.

The Council has produced a user guide for the Otago Regional Plan: Water that outlines which rules are relevant to certain activities. This helps resource users determine whether an activity is permitted or not.

In both regions, council staff and/or stakeholders commented that the plans are not specific enough, making it difficult for council staff to get a feel for how the issues are being addressed by the policies and methods, and what the plans intend to achieve. They also said that plans needed to be specific so decision-makers can justify, when necessary, a decision to decline a resource consent application. This may occur more frequently as pressure increases on freshwater resources.

When a plan is not specific, it is difficult for resource consent applicants to work out what is allowed and what is not. Often, applicants who want to know what they need to do to comply with regional council plans – for example, when building a dam or disposing of dairy effluent – will contact the council for advice, rather than trying to use the regional plan. Vague planning documents are open to different interpretations, and therefore provide less certainty for consent applicants about what requirements they need to meet and what level of resource use is acceptable.

In addition, when plan objectives are not well defined, stakeholders who have an interest in environmental protection are left in doubt as to what level of protection will be provided.

At the Horizons Regional Council, staff and councillors considered it was important for them to have a good understanding of the plan and its rules. Workshops are held for councillors to gain an understanding of planning documents. However, staff do not receive formal training on these documents. Instead, training is given “on the job”. Some staff noted that this was a preferred approach to formal training.

At the Otago Regional Council, council staff and councillors had received detailed training on the plan and were able to describe the linkages between objectives, policies, methods, and ERAs for a water quality and water quantity issue. The Council also held a number of public workshops on how to use the Regional Plan: Water when it became operative.

Concluding remarks

We accept that regional plans cannot be simple documents, as they need to be scientifically and legally sound, and address complex resource management issues. It can be difficult to achieve the balance between writing a document that can be read and understood by the community, and which also meets the other requirements.

However, when planning documents are not specific:

  • council staff and stakeholders can be unsure how the issues are being addressed by the policies and methods, and what the plans intend to achieve;
  • council staff can be unsure how to implement policies and methods;
  • decision-makers could find it difficult to justify some resource consent conditions, or decisions to grant or decline resource consent applications;
  • resource consent applicants can be unsure about the requirements they need to meet, and what level of resource use is acceptable; and
  • stakeholders who have an interest in environmental protection can be in doubt as to what level of protection will be provided.

We consider it important for council staff and councillors to receive formal training on the content of planning documents. This will help to ensure a high level of understanding of how the implementation of policies and methods relates to the achievement of objectives and the resolution of issues – that is, what the plans intend to achieve and how they will do it. It may also be appropriate to provide information for the community on planning documents.

As staff with detailed knowledge of council planning documents are replaced, councils should ensure that a good knowledge of planning documents is maintained.

Have environmental values been identified?

Environmental values reflect the community’s aspirations for the water in the region, and the level of water quality desired. They may include:

  • ecological function and biodiversity;
  • natural character;
  • natural features and landscape;
  • cultural and spiritual values;
  • scenic and amenity values;
  • contact recreation, such as swimming, fishing, kayaking, and boating; and
  • mauri and mahinga kai.

In our view, the identification and communication of environmental values is an important first step in water resource planning. It is essential to understanding the resource, and to allow others to appreciate what it is about a particular water body that needs to be maintained and enhanced. Identification of environmental values also drives the planning process – including the setting of objectives, policies, and methods, and determining what resource monitoring is required.

Our expectations

We expected that the 2 councils would have identified environmental values for specific water bodies in their region, and in doing so would have undertaken (or used) scientific studies and consulted with the community. We also expected that environmental values would be included in planning documents so that it is clear to stakeholders what these values are, and what is important about specific water bodies.

Our findings

Both the Horizons and Otago Regional Councils had identified environmental values for specific water bodies, and these were included in planning documents. In both regions, stakeholders were aware of the environmental values identified.

Environmental values reflected in the Horizons Regional Council planning documents include scenic, conservation, and recreational values. Scientific, intrinsic, economic, and cultural values were also mentioned, and specific fish and bird species and their habitats identified.

In the Manawatu-Wanganui region, the identification of environmental values has focussed on the main rivers and wetlands, and there is little understanding of values for small streams and tributaries. We appreciate that this type of work is labour intensive and may not be appropriate for the entire region.

In the Otago region, environmental values include natural and human use, water supply, historic places, and spiritual and cultural values. Specific fish species and habitats are also identified. The Otago Regional Council considers that the values included in its Regional Plan: Water are a “snapshot” and intend to add to these as new species and habitats are identified.

Both councils have drawn on the knowledge of external stakeholders such as the Department of Conservation and the local Fish and Game Council. Some stakeholders we spoke to said that information from external parties needs to be reviewed to ensure that it is objective.

Concluding remarks

Both councils have identified environmental values for specific water bodies, and these are included in planning documents. Both councils used information provided by external stakeholders to identify environmental values.

In both regions, stakeholders were aware of the environmental values identified. Identification of environmental values is a key starting point for planning water management, and we were pleased to see that both councils had done this.

While our expectations were largely met, there is little understanding of the environmental values of many small streams and tributaries. Where councils do not hold this information and a resource consent is sought, we consider that it is important to ensure that environmental values are identified as part of the resource consent process.

In addition, environmental values may change over time as new information becomes available. Management practices and monitoring requirements may need to be modified as new values are identified.

Do the planning documents set a water allocation framework?

A water allocation framework outlines how applications to take water (for example, for irrigation) are dealt with.

One mechanism used to establish a water allocation framework is to set a “minimum flow” rate and water “allocation limit” for rivers. A minimum flow is the flow below which the holder of any resource consent to take water must cease taking water from that river. The minimum flow specifies the volume of water that must remain in a river to protect ecological, cultural, and recreational values.

The allocation limit specifies how much water is available to be taken from the river for use. Once the limit is reached, the regional council will not grant any further consents to take water from the river.

Our expectations

We expected that:

  • regional plans would make it clear how much freshwater is available for use; and
  • regional councils would have a mechanism in place to ensure enough freshwater remains in the water body to protect identified environmental values.

Our findings

The Horizons Regional Council developed the Oroua Catchment Plan in response to unnaturally low flows in the Oroua River during dry periods, and unacceptable water quality in the lower river at times of low flow. The plan contains policies to suspend takes from the river when flows reach a set rate, and establishes criteria for rostering of water takes during low flows. It also promotes water harvesting when flows are high, and establishes a transferable water permit regime. This is discussed further in paragraph 5.91.

The Oroua Catchment Plan notes that it is doubtful that any future application for a large volume of water could be accommodated unless current use declines. Minimum flows are set for 2 rivers in the catchment, and consents for another stream include minimum-flow provisions. Stakeholders we spoke to were aware that no further applications to take water from this catchment are likely to be granted.

The Horizons Regional Council’s Land and Water Regional Plan does not set minimum flows, except those established by Water Conservation Orders18 and Local Water Conservation Notices. Demand for water from rivers covered by this regional plan has increased since 2000. In response, the Horizons Regional Council is developing a new policy for allocating water under its One Plan.

The new water allocation policy allows for the establishment of minimum flows and allocation limits for all rivers and streams, and includes criteria for determining priority use of water. The policy also requires consent-holders to install water meters capable of real-time monitoring19 so that the Council can assess compliance with consent limits. Consent-holders must also undergo a water audit to determine water efficiency levels.

The Horizons Regional Council also intends to determine minimum flows on other rivers, and will undertake scientific analysis in pressure areas as a priority.

In the Otago region, the Regional Plan: Water sets out a surface water allocation policy framework, which is supported by rules.

In devising its allocation framework, the Otago Regional Council calculated the quantities of water available for allocation from specific rivers by taking an average of water flows during dry periods. The water available is called the “primary allocation”.

When the Council has granted resource consents for the amount of water calculated as available for primary allocation, the river is considered “fully-allocated” and the Council will not grant any further consents for primary allocation.

The allocation framework also allows for the taking of water from a river when the river has high flows (this water can be stored for later use). The water available by this means is known as “supplementary allocation”.

Having a resource consent to take water does not necessarily mean that water can be taken from the river at any time. The Otago Regional Council has also established a minimum flow on some rivers, and consent-holders can be required as a condition of their resource consent to cease taking water once the river flow is at or below minimum flow. Figure 7 represents a river with minimum flows for water available for, or allocated as, primary and supplementary allocation.

The Regional Plan: Water provides for water allocation committees (or similar) to be set up for each water body. The committee for the Kakanui River is responsible for establishing and managing a system that restricts water takes when river flows approach the minimum-flow level. Water allocation committees are discussed further in paragraphs 5.56-5.65.

Stakeholders in both regions were generally well informed about the water allocation frameworks in place.

Figure 7
Water allocation in the Otago region

Figure 7.

Concluding remarks

Both the Horizons and Otago Regional Councils had either established, or were in the process of establishing, a water allocation framework in areas where demand for water is high. Good progress has been made in this complex area.

When there are many competing demands for water use and conflicting environmental values, it is important that stakeholders understand when, and where, water can be used. Stakeholders we spoke to, whether irrigators or community groups, were usually well informed about the water allocation frameworks in place in their regions, highlighting the community’s acute interest in water allocation.

Do the planning documents address water quality issues?

The RMA restricts regional councils from allowing permitted activities (section 70) or granting resource consents (section 107) to discharge contaminants or water into water, or onto land where it may enter water, with the following effects:

  • the production of conspicuous oil or grease films, scums or foams, or floatable or suspended materials;
  • any conspicuous change in the colour or visual clarity;
  • any emission of objectionable odour;
  • the rendering of freshwater unsuitable for consumption by farm animals; and
  • any significant adverse effects on aquatic life.

A regional council may also set water quality standards in its regional plan. The RMA states that any standard set in a regional plan must not reduce the quality of the water unless it is consistent with the purpose of the RMA to do so.

Water quality standards define the limit of acceptable risk in a given situation. There are currently no national water quality standards, and it is not mandatory to set water quality standards in a regional plan. If standards are set within rules, they have the force of regulation.

A standard can be numeric – for example, “the average daily concentration of particulate organic matter shall not exceed 5 grams per cubic metre” – or narrative (a description of an environmental state) – for example, “the water shall not be rendered unsuitable for bathing by the presence of contaminants”.

The RMA requires that any water quality standards that are imposed shall be met after allowing for “reasonable mixing” of discharges. This means that it may be necessary (and acceptable) to allow for a zone where water quality standards are not met (a noncompliance zone). There has been much debate about what size of non-compliance zone is reasonable.

The Surface Water Quality guidance on the Quality Planning website20 outlines the benefits and disadvantages of setting water quality standards in a regional plan:

  • standards provide certainty about desired environmental outcomes and therefore what is expected from resource users;
  • standards are generally measurable and can provide benchmarks against which to measure cumulative effects as well as the effectiveness of plans;
  • standards provide clear guidance for processing resource consents;
  • it can be difficult to define standards that are appropriate for a range of different types of water bodies with different values and characteristics; and
  • standards can reduce the discretion that a regional council has when processing resource consents on a case-by-case basis.

Our expectations

We expected that regional councils would have set water quality standards where appropriate, and that these standards would be included in regional plans.

We also expected that regional plans would make it clear where future discharges of contaminants to water would be allowed, and that regional council planning documents would not allow any discharge to water or land that would be likely to have the effects prohibited in sections 70 or 107 of the RMA.21

Our findings

The Horizons and Otago Regional Councils have taken different approaches to water quality planning.

The Manawatu Catchment Water Quality Regional Plan (the Manawatu Catchment Plan) uses rules to set water quality standards, both by quantifying the narrative standards in the RMA set under section 70, and by setting numerical standards in place of the narrative standards for contact recreation in Schedule 3 of the RMA. Existing resource consent-holders have been given deadlines to comply these with standards – 1, 5, or 10 years from when the plan became operative in 1998.

The Manawatu Catchment Plan specifies the methodology that will be used to calculate the mixing zone allowable for discharges to the Manawatu River. The plan also deals with the cumulative effects of discharges. This includes allowing major resource consents to be processed together so that the combined effect on the river can be assessed and conditions attached to the resource consents to ensure water quality standards are not breached.

Horizons Regional Council staff use the narrative standards in sections 70 and 107 of the RMA as baseline standards for resource consents. Rules in the Manawatu Catchment Plan make any activity that would breach these standards a non-complying activity.

Horizons Regional Council staff told us that sections 70 and 107 of the RMA are inadequate and misleading for applicants, who think that if they comply with the conditions, their discharges will be allowed.

Horizons Regional Council staff and stakeholders also consider that the standards in sections 70 and 107 are open to interpretation. There can be conflict about what is “conspicuous”. It is also difficult to monitor compliance with these standards. Some stakeholders we spoke to consider that it is better to have numeric standards as they provided more certainty.

The Otago Regional Plan: Water permits activities that do not have effects prohibited by section 70 of the RMA. Resource consents are required for activities that would breach section 107 of the RMA.

A rule in the Regional Plan: Water sets numerical standards as a threshold for assessing whether discharges are permitted without a resource consent. While the plan provides for guidelines and standards to be considered in setting conditions for resource consents, it does not set generic numerical values for particular contaminants.

When considering applications for resource consents, the Regional Plan: Water states that staff will consider the cumulative effects of discharges of contaminants and the assimilative capacity of the water body.

The Regional Plan: Water includes a list of factors to be taken into account when establishing a mixing zone, such as “the sensitivity of the receiving environment” and “the natural character of the water body”. While this provides some guidance to staff processing resource consents, it can be difficult for consent applicants to interpret.

Concluding remarks

The planning documents of both councils do not allow any discharge to water or land that would be likely to have the effects described in the narrative water quality standards set out in sections 70 and 107 of the RMA – that is, they do not allow permitted activities or consented discharges if the effects are prohibited by the RMA.

Relying on narrative standards can be less effective than setting numeric standards because narrative standards can be open to interpretation and can create confusion. In contrast, numeric standards can provide the decision criteria and regulatory standards that will be applied to the resource consent application, stating in advance what is expected from resource users.

Specifying in regional plans what methodology will be used to calculate mixing zones guides staff who process resource consents. Where the approach is not quantified, it is left open for discussion and can cause debate between resource consent applicants, council staff, and affected parties.

The Manawatu Catchment Plan makes good use of numeric water quality standards and sets out a comprehensive framework for improving water quality in the catchment.

The Otago Regional Plan: Water provides some numeric standards for permitted activity discharges to water, but none for discharges to water that require a resource consent.

Do the planning documents explain the roles and responsibilities of the regional councils and territorial authorities?

As noted in paragraphs 2.42-2.46, the RMA defines the respective roles of regional councils and territorial authorities. Some of the activities controlled by territorial authorities have implications for the achievement of regional council objectives. These include:

  • ensuring that new subdivision development takes account of water availability and natural hazards;
  • on-site waste water treatment and septic tanks, and the potential effects of leachate on water quality;
  • the effects of stormwater on water quality; and
  • intensification of agricultural activities.

Our expectations

We expected that planning documents would explain the roles and responsibilities of regional councils and territorial authorities regarding land use activities that affect, or have potential to affect, water resources. We also looked for a formal agreement between the regional council and the territorial authorities, setting out various responsibilities.

Our findings

The Horizons Regional Council’s Regional Policy Statement specifies methods for territorial authorities to achieve the Council’s objectives for water quality and quantity. These include:

  • placing conditions in subdivision consents for riparian planting, and promotion of riparian planting;
  • promoting efficiency of water use; and
  • protecting groundwater from septic tank contamination.

The Otago Regional Council’s Regional Policy Statement and Regional Plan: Water set out methods for dealing with cross-boundary issues. They include the promotion and encouragement of:

  • protocols with territorial authorities for resolving issues;
  • joint working groups/council committees and other joint approaches between territorial authorities and the regional council; and
  • joint processing of resource consent applications that cross administrative boundaries.

Both councils have triennial agreements with the territorial authorities in their regions, as required by section 15 of the Local Government Act 2002.

Concluding remarks

Both councils’ planning documents provide an adequate framework for working with the territorial authorities in their regions to address land uses that affect freshwater quality and quantity. Implementation of this framework is discussed in Part 5.

As outlined in paragraph 2.9 and shown in Figure 1, pollution from non-point sources is a major and increasing problem. Agricultural activities are a significant cause of non-point source pollution. It may be timely (as councils prepare second generation planning documents) for regional councils and territorial authorities to review procedures for permitting intensive agricultural activities where there are likely to be significant effects on water quality.

Do objectives, policies, methods, and Environmental Results Anticipated meet best practice?

We considered the extent to which the objectives, policies, methods, and ERAs outlined in both councils’ planning documents met our audit criteria (see Appendix). In particular, we assessed whether:

  • objectives are measurable;
  • policies specify a course of action;
  • methods include regulation, education initiatives, and economic instruments; and
  • ERAs are achievable within the life of the planning document.

Are objectives measurable?

An “issue” is an existing or potential problem that must be resolved to promote the purpose of the RMA. An “objective” is a statement of what will be achieved through the resolution of this issue. Best practice guidance states that objectives should be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

Our expectations

e expected that objectives would be measurable and set a clear direction for policies.

Our findings

Objectives for water management in the Horizons Regional Council’s Regional Policy Statement are relatively clear. However, many also simply restate what the RMA already requires, rather than reflecting the specific requirements of the region.

The Council’s Land and Water Regional Plan objectives for discharge to surface water are clear and guide policy direction. For example:

  • To maintain or enhance water quality in rivers to standards at least suitable for contact recreation at flows less than half-median, wherever practicable.
  • To maintain water quality in those rivers that have existing high water quality.
  • To avoid accelerated eutrophication and sedimentation of lakes in the Region, in particular coastal dune lakes.

Horizons Regional Council staff acknowledge that they need better targets, and policies and methods that are quantifiable. They say that many of their objectives are imprecise and do not enable them to measure progress against their achievement. The Horizons Regional Council intends to include measurable objectives in its One Plan.

Many of the objectives in the Otago Regional Council’s Regional Policy Statement and Regional Plan: Water are broad and do not provide a clear direction or a basis for determining whether they are achieved or not. Examples include:

  • To safeguard the life-supporting capacity of Otago’s water resources through protecting the quantity and quality of those water resources.
  • To retain flows in rivers sufficient to maintain their life-supporting capacity for aquatic ecosystems, and their natural character.

Objectives such as “safeguarding the life-supporting capacity of the water” merely repeat the RMA, and are not specific about what life the water will support.

Concluding remarks

The objectives in the Horizons and Otago Regional Councils’ Regional Policy Statements and Regional Plans were not measurable. Many of the objectives did not provide a clear basis for setting policy direction.

In our view, regional council planning documents can be significantly improved by the inclusion of simply worded objectives that clearly set out what the plan intends to achieve and which specifically outline the environmental state sought.

Objectives that are measurable provide a basis for determining whether progress is being made in achieving the objective and assessing whether the policies and methods that flow from the objective are effective and efficient.

Do policies specify a course of action?

Policies that outline a course of action for meeting the stated objective provide a basis for forming action plans for the implementation of planning documents. They also guide how resource consent applications are considered.

Our expectations

We expected that the policies stated in the Regional Policy Statements and Regional Plans would specify a course of action. We also assessed whether policies anticipated potential future resource uses.

Our findings

Most policies in both councils’ regional plans specified a course of action. The plans included policies to:

  • Develop and adopt formal non-regulatory strategies for soil conservation and the effects of land use on water quality. (Horizons Regional Council’s Land and Water Regional Plan)
  • Promote the establishment of, and to support appropriate water allocation committees to assist in the management of water rationing and flow monitoring during periods of water shortage. (Otago Regional Plan: Water)
  • Promote discharges of contaminants to land in preference to water, where appropriate. (Otago Regional Plan: Water)

Policies in Regional Policy Statements were more likely to set a council position on decision-making.

Both councils have attempted to provide for the future use of water resources in their plans. This includes provisions to promote water storage, and to maintain and enhance water quality at a standard suitable for a range of uses in the future.

While both councils have considered potential future demands on water as part of the planning process, staff consider that they could not have predicted the vast increase in some activities in their regions, such as conversion to dairy farming, subdivision, and demand for water for irrigation.

Concluding remarks

The majority of policies in both councils’ regional plans specify a course of action. Planning documents also make provision for increased demand for water resources in future years.

Do methods include a range of regulatory methods, education initiatives, and economic instruments?

A comprehensive water management framework may include regulation to address significant resource management issues, economic instruments to encourage desired behaviour and efficiency of resource use, and education initiatives to help the community understand the effect of their activities on the environment and how to reduce negative effects.

Our expectations

We expected regional councils to use methods such as those described in paragraph 4.99 to manage water quality and water allocation issues in their regions.

Our findings

Both councils have used a regulatory approach to manage point source discharges and water takes.

Education initiatives are used to provide information and advice on the appropriate discharge of contaminants to land and water, and to improve understanding of the benefits of reducing the negative effects of land-use activities on water quality.

Both councils provide economic instruments in the form of financial incentives for wetland protection and enhancement. The Horizons Regional Council also uses a range of other economic instruments. The implementation of these methods is discussed in paragraphs 5.90-5.91.

Concluding remarks

The Horizons and Otago Regional Councils both provide for regulation, education, and economic instruments in their planning documents.

Are the Environmental Results Anticipated achievable within the life of the planning document?

ERAs are statements of what should be achieved when policies and methods in the planning document are implemented. Well-crafted ERAs provide a basis for monitoring the effectiveness of the plan. ERAs should provide the tangible outcomes sought by the implementation of the planning document.

Our expectations

We expected that ERAs would specify what will be achieved by the policies and methods in the Regional Policy Statement and Regional Plans, and would set targets to be achieved within the period covered by the planning documents.

Our findings

The ERAs set out in the Horizons and Otago Regional Councils’ planning documents did not meet our expectations.

Rather than a statement of what will be achieved within the life of planning documents, many ERAs simply repeated the objectives, which adds little value. Most ERAs did not have timetables associated with them.

ERAs specified in the Horizons and Otago Regional Councils’ planning documents include the following:

  • More efficient water taking and use practices are utilised. (Otago Regional Plan: Water)
  • The overall quality of coastal lowland lakes will be improved. (Horizons Regional Council’s Regional Policy Statement)
  • The quality of surface water shall not be incompatible with values held by the tangata whenua. (Manawatu Catchment Plan)
  • Land use practices that are sustainable in terms of water quality requirements are utilised. (Otago Regional Plan: Water)
  • There is sufficient water remaining to support the life supporting capacity and natural character of rivers. (Otago Regional Plan: Water)

Concluding remarks

The inclusion of ERAs in planning documents is a requirement of the RMA and is an important and relevant part of the planning process. In particular, ERAs can be used as a tool for setting out the results or outcomes that the plan intends to achieve, and to provide a basis for monitoring against expectations. To achieve the latter, ERAs should be linked to council monitoring strategies.

In our view, more thought needs to be given to drafting ERAs when planning documents are being prepared.

Do the planning documents comply with Resource Management Act requirements?

We considered whether particular aspects of planning documents have been prepared as required by the RMA. We assessed whether:

  • planning documents describe how policies and methods will be monitored for effectiveness and efficiency; and
  • Iwi Management Plans were taken into account.

Do the planning documents describe how policies and methods will be monitored for effectiveness and efficiency?

The RMA requires regional councils to monitor the effectiveness and efficiency of policies, rules, or other methods in Regional Policy Statements and Regional Plans.22 Planning documents must include the procedures used to monitor the effectiveness and efficiency of the policies or methods contained in the document.23

In addition, the RMA now requires that councils must make available to the public a review of the results of their monitoring of the effectiveness and efficiency of the policies or methods at least every 5 years.24

Our expectations

We expected that regional council planning documents would outline how the council would monitor the effectiveness and efficiency of its policies and methods. We expected that this would be integrated with other types of monitoring (for example, state of the environment and resource consent compliance monitoring), and with measuring the achievement of ERAs and objectives.

Our findings

The Horizons Regional Council’s Regional Policy Statement discusses information and monitoring requirements. However, it does not specifically say how policies and methods will be monitored for effectiveness and efficiency. It contains a method to identify key indicators for monitoring the suitability and effectiveness of policies and plans. These indicators have not yet been developed.

The Council’s Land and Water Plan states that monitoring the effectiveness of the plan will be based on the information provided by the Regional Monitoring Strategy. While the Strategy attempts to link objectives and policies to monitoring data, it does not say how the data will be used to assess whether policies and methods are effective or efficient. The Strategy also does not address monitoring the effectiveness and efficiency of non-regulatory methods.

The Otago Regional Council’s Regional Policy Statement outlines the types of monitoring undertaken by the Council. It also notes the value of state of the environment monitoring as a means of assessing the effectiveness of policies, plans, and processes, because this monitoring can be used to analyse trends and measure human effects on the environment.

The Regional Plan: Water states that the Otago Regional Council will follow the monitoring framework set out in the Regional Policy Statement. It describes techniques that may be used to determine the suitability and effectiveness of objectives and policies in the plan. These techniques include:

  • analysis of feedback, compliments, and complaints received, and responses to complaints;
  • compliance audit monitoring, at appropriate intervals, to ensure the conditions on resource consents are being adhered to; and
  • commissioning research, as necessary, to provide additional information on the environment of water bodies.

Implementation of the procedures to monitor the effectiveness and efficiency of policies and methods is outlined in paragraphs 6.89-6.98.

Concluding remarks

The procedures for monitoring the effectiveness and efficiency of policies and methods are present in both councils’ planning documents. However, they are not comprehensive.

The Horizons Regional Council provides minimal information in its planning documents on how policies and methods will be monitored for effectiveness and efficiency, and this has not been developed further.

The Council will need to make considerable progress in this area before it will be able to publicly report on its effectiveness and efficiency monitoring. Work is under way as part of the development of the One Plan to improve this aspect of planning, and a policy-monitoring officer has been appointed.

The Otago Regional Council’s procedures for monitoring effectiveness and efficiency are more developed, but are not linked to measuring the achievement of ERAs and objectives.

In our view, it is important that councils have procedures in place to ensure that policies and methods are having the desired effects, and that progress towards the achievement of the ERAs is assessed on a regular basis.

Have Iwi Management Plans been taken into account in the planning documents?

When preparing Regional Policy Statements and Regional Plans, regional councils are required by the RMA to have regard to any relevant planning document recognised by an iwi authority, and lodged with the council.25 These documents are referred to as Iwi Management Plans.

Our expectations

Where relevant, we expected that Iwi Management Plans would have been taken into account, and that there would be evidence of iwi consultation in plan development.

Our findings

The Manawatu-Wanganui region is large and diverse, containing at least 18 distinct iwi. Establishing and maintaining relationships with many iwi and hapu can be difficult, particularly where these groups are not well resourced to participate in resource management processes.

The Horizons Regional Council’s annual report for 2003-04 states that 2 Iwi Management Plans have been completed, and the current Long-Term Council Community Plan26 states that 3 Iwi Management Plans have been completed. However, at the time of our audit these documents were in draft form and are still being negotiated with respective iwi.

Council staff have assisted in drafting the Iwi Management Plans, and funding was provided to iwi.

At the time of our audit, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was being developed with an iwi in the region. The MoU generally sets out how the iwi and the Horizons Regional Council will interact with one another, share information, and handle resource consent applications.

There is uncertainty about the status of this MoU. Horizons Regional Council staff consider that the document is in draft stage, whereas iwi feel that the content has been agreed and the document is ready for final sign-off by the Council.

In terms of Regional Policy Statement and plan development, an iwi representative we spoke to did not feel there had been adequate consultation by the Horizons Regional Council. There are particular concerns in relation to groundwater, and how further water takes will affect the mauri of water bodies.

The Council has attempted to consult with 40 iwi and hapu in the region during development of its One Plan. So far, only 2 of these groups have opted to participate in the consultation process.

There is 1 iwi in Otago called Kai Tahu, which consists of 4 runanga. Kai Tahu has established a consultancy – named Kai Tahu ki Otago Ltd – to facilitate consultation between resource consent applicants and the runanga.

Kai Tahu has lodged a Natural Resource Management Plan (NRM Plan) with Otago Regional Council.27 The Regional Plan: Water notes that the NRM Plan has been considered during development of the regional plan. Kai Tahu representatives were also involved in the preparation of the Regional Policy Statement.

The Otago Regional Council and Kai Tahu have also established a Memorandum of Understanding for effective consultation and liaison. The Council and Kai Tahu appear to have a good relationship, with formal meetings held at least twice a year.

Kai Tahu is also developing guidelines for consultation, which will help Council staff to determine which resource consent applications need to be sent to Kai Tahu for consideration.

Implementation of policies and methods for iwi consultation and participation in resource management are discussed in paragraphs 5.100-5.117.

Concluding remarks

Progress in developing Iwi Management Plans, MoUs, and the participation of iwi in the regional council process, relies on building good relationships between council staff, councillors, and tangata whenua. This becomes more difficult when there are many iwi to consider, particularly when iwi are not resourced to participate in council processes.

The Horizons Regional Council faces a significant challenge to improve relationships and communication with the many iwi groups in the region. The status of Iwi Management Plans and MoUs needs to be clarified and communicated accurately in Council accountability documents, and to Council staff and iwi.

The Otago Regional Council has made good progress in developing relationships with Kai Tahu, and has included Kai Tahu and its Iwi Management Plan in the preparation of its planning documents.

17: Any relevant planning document recognised by an iwi authority (the authority representing an iwi, and recognised by the iwi as having authority to do so) and lodged with the council.

18: An order made under the Resource Management Act 1991 to recognise and sustain outstanding amenity or intrinsic values of water bodies. The order imposes restrictions or prohibitions on a regional council’s powers related to matters including the quantity, quality, rate of flow, or level of the water body.

19: This allows councils to determine how much water is being taken (for example, for irrigation) on a regular basis so that the council has up-to-date information on the status of the river.

20: See

21: Unless permitted under section 107(2), which allows a council to grant a consent to do something that would otherwise contravene section 107(1) of the RMA if the council is satisfied that exceptional circumstances justify the granting of the permit, the discharge is of a temporary nature, or the discharge is associated with necessary maintenance work, and it is consistent with the purpose of the RMA to do so.

22: RMA, section 35.

23: RMA, sections 62 and 67.

24: RMA, section 35(2A).

25: Sections 61(2A) and 66(2A).

26: A 10-year plan, adopted under section 93 of the Local Government Act, that sets out a city, district, or regional council’s intended activities and their costs, and how these activities contribute to social, economic, environmental or cultural well-being, and to community outcomes. Its purpose is to provide for participation by the public in council decision-making and a basis for the council’s subsequent accountability to the community.

27: This plan is currently being revised.

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