Part 8: Working with stakeholders and partners

Managing Freshwater quality: Challenges and opportunities.

In this Part, we discuss regional councils':

Summary of findings

Since 2011, some improvements have been made in the four regional councils' ongoing relationships with stakeholders and iwi/hapū. Challenges still remain, particularly in the four regional councils' relationships with the Māori community and environmental groups. These need further commitment.

Overall, relationships with the farming sector are stronger than with other stakeholders. The strength of these relationships concerns some other stakeholders, who believe their own views get less attention.

The four regional councils' relationships with territorial authorities – city and district councils – are variable. Some territorial authority representatives said that regional councils should better understand territorial authorities' operational work, including their infrastructure and funding challenges. Territorial authorities consider that this would lead to more-effective working relationships.

Some of the four regional councils are working more effectively with iwi and hapū than others. All councils, even those with positive and robust relationships with iwi and hapū, can increase or improve their relationships. Councils should also properly include iwi and hapū yet to settle their Treaty claims with the Crown in decision-making.

Relationships with environmental groups are not all healthy, with some showing concerning signs of strain or fracture. Where unhealthy tensions exist, trust can be lost. Parties in unhealthy relationships need to re-establish trust and share views through honest and constructive dialogue.

Generally positive relationships with farmers

The farming sector can make a significant difference to freshwater quality. We expect regional councils to have healthy relationships with farmers so they can influence land-use practices.

The four regional councils all worked closely and had strong relationships with farmers. For example, Taranaki Regional Council has good relationships with individual farmers through ongoing interaction on its extensive and near-complete riparian management programme. Taranaki Regional Council compliance staff and several farming stakeholders stated that having a strong compliance monitoring programme was no barrier to a robust and healthy relationship.

Day-to-day working relationships with farmers often centre on regulatory work and non-regulatory initiatives that help support more sustainable land-use practices and the effect on farming operations.

We discuss the relationships that the four regional councils have with representatives from the farming sector in Part 10.

Improving relationships with territorial authorities

Regional councils and territorial authorities need strong and productive relationships with each other so they can focus on better environmental outcomes.38 Territorial authorities often hold major consents (such as for wastewater treatment plants) and are responsible for providing important services to the community. They are also in a position to influence positive environmental behaviours and land-use practices.

The four regional councils' relationships with territorial authorities varied. Regional councils have invested significant time and resources into working with territorial authorities to ensure positive outcomes for their regions.

The benefits of territorial authorities and regional councils working together is evident in the partnership between Horizons Regional Council and the district councils and others (through the Manawatū River Leaders Accord) to upgrade wastewater treatment plants in Woodville, Feilding, Kimbolton, Dannevirke, and Pahiatua. The Manawatū River Leaders Accord secured funding through the Fresh Start for Fresh Water Clean-up Fund for the upgrades.

A district council leader told us that Horizons Regional Council had also taken a pragmatic and future-focused approach to improving wastewater treatment issues that were affecting freshwater quality. Horizons staff helped pinpoint the areas that needed to improve and worked with the local district council on a long-term consent to enable an iterative approach to future-proof the affected treatment plant.

Waikato Regional Council considers that being an effective regulator includes maintaining effective and constructive relationships with the territorial authorities it regulates. A territorial authority leader that we spoke to supported this approach, noting that it had resulted in territorial authorities finding the best long-term solution to problems affecting freshwater quality. A senior staff member for another territorial authority noted that the Council's consent enforcement staff were open to being approached about problems and finding solutions before the need for enforcement action.

Waikato Regional Council has partnered with territorial authorities to help protect and improve freshwater quality by integrating how they plan and manage water use. An example of this is the "Future Proof" initiative, which is intended to help manage population and economic growth in the Waikato-Hamilton-Waipa districts. This includes a Three Waters strategy that will co-ordinate management of water supply, wastewater, and stormwater to secure better freshwater quality outcomes for the Waikato River.

A perceived lack of understanding or professional affinity between groups can prevent effective working relationships. Some territorial authorities we spoke to questioned whether regional councils had a good enough understanding of the territorial authorities' operations and operating environment (such as the challenges territorial authorities face with ageing infrastructure, declining rural populations, and expanding urban centres).

Some territorial authority staff in the Taranaki region felt that Taranaki Regional Council's approach to compliance issues was too rigid. They felt that the Council could improve how it communicates compliance issues. They also felt that the Council lacked understanding of the challenges territorial authorities face in maintaining the services they deliver. These perceptions prevent a fully effective working relationship.

In the Southland region, territorial authority staff we spoke to acknowledged the genuine and ongoing effort by Environment Southland to improve its relationship with territorial authorities. This includes the 4-Waters initiative, where the regional council and territorial authorities collaborate on managing, upgrading, and consenting stormwater, wastewater, and potable water supplies and on managing the effects of these activities on freshwater quality.

This initiative and other efforts to build relationships have contributed to all parties building a better understanding of each other's operations and operating environment. However, territorial authority staff felt that Environment Southland's approach to compliance monitoring and enforcement was not fully informed by a clear understanding of a territorial authority's ability to control or limit the consequences of potential incidents.

Because regional councils regulate territorial authorities' use of resources, there will always be a level of tension in their relationship. However, that tension can be constructive. The territorial authority staff we spoke to acknowledged the need for regional councils to be strong regulators, and we fully support regional councils taking a strong approach to every consent they regulate.

We encourage regional councils to continue efforts to work more effectively with territorial authorities to improve outcomes for freshwater quality.

Strained relationships with environmental and conservation groups

Environmental and conservation groups play an important role in highlighting freshwater issues and calling for improvements to be made. These groups, which include national bodies such as the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand and locally focused groups, often initiate or become involved in conservation work and clean-up efforts to improve freshwater quality.

The four regional councils' relationships with environmental groups varied. In two of the four regional councils, the relationships were strained. Nevertheless, those regional councils have a responsibility to continue making efforts to work effectively with environmental groups.

The relationship between Horizons Regional Council and Fish and Game suffered because of issues with nutrient allocation during implementation of the One Plan. This led to the Environment Defence Society and Fish and Game bringing a case against the Council to the Environment Court in 2016. The Court issued declarations requiring Horizons Regional Council to address these and other issues. We encourage Horizons Regional Council to take a leadership role in bringing the two groups together and repairing the relationship.

Environmental groups we spoke to in the Southland region were concerned that some instances of material non-compliance were going undetected and that Environment Southland was not being fully transparent with all of the scientific information it held.

We spoke to Environment Southland about these concerns. Council staff were receptive to talking through these concerns with environmental groups and were considering how Environment Southland can be more open and timely in releasing scientific information. Since we spoke with them, Environment Southland has advised that it has established regular meetings to discuss compliance monitoring with environmental groups.

Improving relationships with iwi and hapū

Regional councils need to have strong and meaningful relationships with iwi and hapū given their deep cultural and traditional connections to water bodies and water. Effective relationships help regional councils better understand Māori values and aspirations for freshwater and reflect them in freshwater objectives. We expect regional councils to have strong and mutually beneficial relationships with iwi and hapū so that all parties can work towards common goals.

Legislation increasingly requires councils to involve iwi and hapū in the management of natural resources (such as freshwater). The Resource Management Act requires councils to protect Māori interests and allow for Māori involvement in resource management decision-making.

Section 6 of the Act requires regional councils (and others performing functions and exercising powers under the Act) to recognise and provide for "matters of national importance", including the relationship of Māori "with their ancestral lands, water, sites, waahi tapu, and other taonga" and the "protection of protected customary rights". The Act also allows for tangata whenua to participate in resource management and decision-making through Mana Whakahono ā Rohe arrangements.

The Local Government Act requires regional councils to provide Māori with the opportunity to contribute to decision-making. Treaty settlement legislation often promotes closer working relationships between iwi/hapū and regional councils. One way the Crown is meeting its obligations is by requiring (through settlement legislation) particular regional councils to work and partner with iwi in managing freshwater bodies.

The four regional councils had different approaches to working with iwi and hapū on freshwater quality management. It is important to acknowledge the different contexts that the councils work in. For example, some councils have multiple iwi and hapū relationships to consider, while others have only a few.

Some council relationships with iwi are shaped by co-governance and co-management arrangements that result from Treaty settlement negotiations. At the same time, those councils must work with iwi yet to complete their settlement negotiations. Some of these groups have capacity constraints that affect their ability to engage with councils on freshwater quality (and other) issues.

Waikato Regional Council works with several iwi at different stages of the Treaty settlement process. The Council has a clear focus on working with iwi and supporting co-management arrangements.

Its work has an internal and external focus. For example, it hired mātauranga Māori experts to build staff capacity in te ao Māori. The Council also co-hosted a conference for local hapū and iwi resource-management practitioners to increase the ways for the Council and iwi/hapū to work together.

Through these activities, the Council recognises the importance of understanding and incorporating the values of iwi and hapū into its organisation.

Waikato Regional Council formally partnered with Maniapoto Māori Trust Board, Raukawa Charitable Trust, Te Arawa River Iwi Trust, Tūwharetoa Māori Trust Board, and Waikato Raupatu River Iwi Trust to propose the Wai Ora Plan. People we spoke to said that these relationships are working well. However, representatives of iwi and hapū yet to settle Treaty claims had less positive feedback. We encourage Waikato Regional Council to continue to improve these relationships.

Horizons Regional Council also works with many iwi and hapū. Like other councils, Horizons Regional Council's relationships with iwi and hapū were variable. The Council works with iwi on freshwater quality management in a variety of ways. One way is by using accords. For example, for the Lake Horowhenua Accord, Horizons Regional Council, Horowhenua District Council, and the Department of Conservation worked with elected trustees representing Muaūpoko beneficial owners to carry out improvement activities.

Horizons Regional Council has also invested time and resources in a range of projects co-funded by the Crown through the Ministry for the Environment's Te Mana o te Wai programme. These projects were designed to assist iwi and hapū in playing a leading role in improving water quality water bodies and involved a mix of activities, including cultural health monitoring, stream fencing, riparian planting, and remediation of fish barriers.

The Tū Te Manawa project included installing information boards that help Manawatū River hapū to tell their stories and connections to the river. We would like to see Horizons Regional Council build on its positive experiences and further apply these good practices to wider iwi and hapū in the region.

Environment Southland has a strong collaborative relationship with Ngāi Tahu ki Murihiku on freshwater initiatives for many years. Environment Southland, Te Ao Marama Inc (which represents Ngā Rūnanga ki Murihiku for resource management and environmental issues), and territorial authorities signed a Charter of Understanding in 2016. It guides developing the relationship between local government and tangata whenua in the Southland region towards a shared goal of sustainable management of the region.

For the last four years, Environment Southland has joined with Te Ao Marama to fund a policy development role at Environment Southland. A representative of the rūnanga fills this role. The rūnanga representative was a critical part of the team drafting Environment Southland's Water and Land Plan proposal.

We heard positive feedback from the stakeholders we spoke to. For example, we were told that the rūnanga feel "right in the mix" at Environment Southland and is being supported to build capacity. Stakeholders we spoke to felt that Māori values are understood and largely incorporated into freshwater objectives and planning.

Taranaki Regional Council's work with iwi and hapū was less satisfactory. Council staff told us that their understanding of Māori values is, in part, informed through positive and ongoing day-to-day interactions with stakeholders. Iwi and hapū representatives told us that they respect council staff and appreciate that genuine effort is being made.

However, many people are frustrated at the one-way transactional nature of the relationship and at having little strategic input into the Council's decisions. They want to be actively involved in drafting regional plans at the beginning stages, rather than being asked for feedback at the end of an internal process. The Council's move to establish the Wai Māori working group (see paragraph 7.42) is an opportunity to address the concerns expressed by iwi and hapū representatives.

Because iwi and hapū have lacked opportunities to engage at the strategic decision-making level, they focus on working with Taranaki Regional Council on individual consents. This has been achieved through provisions of the Resource Management Act enabling iwi to be considered affected parties for a proposed activity. Affected parties are able to make submissions on a consent application.

Iwi and hapū representatives expressed frustration with the lack of information the Council shared about resource consent applications and said that this made them feel disenfranchised. They felt that the Council did not provide enough information to allow for meaningful comment. Iwi and hapū often resorted to sourcing information directly from the applicant. One representative noted this "just feels like [the Council] is ticking the box" by providing it to iwi.

Taranaki Regional Council has recently appointed six iwi representatives to its policy and planning committee and consents and regulatory committee. In our view, this is a positive development. This allows both parties to address iwi and hapū concerns about over-investment in individual consenting decisions by lifting their involvement to the strategic level. We encourage Taranaki Regional Council to help the iwi representatives contribute effectively in regional decision-making.

The Council is also having discussions with iwi authorities to establish Mana Whakahono a Rohe agreements. Any such agreements will make clear the ways in which iwi will participate in resource management and decision-making processes. These agreements could address the concerns and frustrations expressed to us by iwi representatives about a current lack of effective input.

The depth and strength of the relationships between the four regional councils and the iwi and hapū in their respective regions varied. This reflects, in part, the varying capacity of iwi and hapū to engage with councils.

However, in our view, there are clear opportunities to build further on these relationships to support more-effective involvement by iwi and hapū. As a first step, councils could do more to understand the aspirations of iwi for their involvement in strategic decision-making about freshwater quality.

Recommendation 4

We recommend that Waikato Regional Council, Taranaki Regional Council, and Horizons Regional Council strengthen relationships with iwi and hapū, especially those yet to complete Treaty settlement processes, by formally seeking their aspirations for involvement in strategic decision-making and identifying how those aspirations can be met.

38: We did not audit any of the six unitary authorities, which are territorial authorities that also have the powers of a regional council. Our findings about relationships between regional councils and territorial authorities are not relevant to unitary authorities.