Part 5: Horizons Regional Council's progress since 2019

Regional councils’ relationships with iwi and hapu for freshwater management – a follow-up report.

Summary of key findings

In our 2019 report, we found that the strength of Horizons Regional Council's relationships with the many iwi and hapū it works with varied. We encouraged Horizons to "build on its positive experiences, and further apply these good practices to wider iwi and hapū in the region".

Since 2019, there have been further Treaty settlements in the region. The Council is working to be more responsive to the ways that different iwi and hapū operate. The Council has also started funding iwi and hapū for the time they spend on developing partnerships with the Council for freshwater work. It has also supported tangata whenua involvement in the governance of environmental issues in the region.

We saw evidence that the Council is incorporating tikanga and mātauranga Māori in its management of freshwater quality, and that this is building trust and confidence. However, as with the other regional councils, this is happening in only some areas of the Council's engagement with iwi and hapū.

The location of the Council's offices and the centralisation of decision-making in Palmerston North mean that some iwi further from Palmerston North feel more disconnected from the Council than closer iwi. The Council needs to take a more strategic and consistent approach to building relationships with iwi and hapū that is more responsive to the ways that different iwi and hapū want to work.

In our view, this could involve supporting council staff to work with iwi and hapū in their rohe and alongside the rivers and waterways more often. Iwi and hapū in the region view this type of visible support as a sign of the Council's long-term commitment to working together to manage freshwater quality. They consider that this is important to further build trust and confidence.

Some iwi also felt that more opportunities for iwi and hapū to sit down with senior staff at the Council to build relationships would be beneficial.

Changes to freshwater management in Manawatū-Whanganui since 2019

Treaty settlement legislation influences Horizons Regional Council's work on managing freshwater quality

Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act was passed in 2017. This legislation is believed to be the first in the world to declare a river a legal person, recognising the significance of the Whanganui River to Whanganui iwi.

As required by the Act, Te Kōpuka was set up in 2019. Te Kōpuka is a strategy group made up of individuals and organisations with interests in the Whanganui River, led by iwi representatives. Its purpose is to work collaboratively to advance the environmental, social, cultural, and economic health and well-being of Te Awa Tupua.

The Ngāti Rangi Claims Settlement Act was passed in 2019. The Act established a framework for the Whangaehu River and catchment called Te Waiu-o-te Ika. Horizons Regional Council must recognise and provide for the values of Te Waiu-o-te Ika when making decisions about any application involving the Whangaehu River or catchment.

The Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa Tāmaki nui-a-Rua Claims Settlement Act was passed in 2022. This requires the appointment of a member to an advisory board (established under the Rangitāne o Manawatu Claims Settlement Act 2016) to provide advice to Horizons Regional Council on freshwater management issues concerning the Manawatū River catchment.

Oranga Wai is Horizons Regional Council's work programme to update its regional plan and policies for managing freshwater

Oranga Wai is Horizons Regional Council's work programme to meet the requirements of the NPS-FM. The Council's website describes it as a way for people to learn about, and be involved in, some key changes to freshwater management in the region.

One piece of work in Oranga Wai is developing the Council's approach to Te Mana o Te Wai in partnership with tangata whenua.

The Climate Action Joint Committee involves tangata whenua in governance of the region's response to climate change

Horizons Regional Council and the district councils in the Manawatū-Whanganui region set up the Climate Action Joint Committee in March 2021. The Committee is responsible for supporting a co-ordinated response to climate change from the councils and communities of the Manawatū-Whanganui region.

The Committee members work together to promote the social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-being of their communities – in accordance with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and of sustainable management for current and future generations.

The Committee is made up of a member from each of the eight delegated local authorities in the Manawatū-Whanganui region and up to eight non-councillor members to represent the views of tangata whenua. The Council appointed the tangata whenua members on the recommendation of iwi leaders from throughout the region. A councillor and tangata whenua member co-chair the Committee.

Horizons Regional Council has strengthened its work with iwi and hapū on managing freshwater

Council staff told us that the Council has taken a more strategic approach to working with iwi and hapū on freshwater management since 2019. We were told that Oranga Wai had given greater strategic intent to the Council's engagement with iwi and hapū. Council staff also told us that Oranga Wai is a way to look at initiatives and work programmes as a whole and think more strategically about what better partnership looks like.

As with the other councils we spoke with, council staff told us that the pressure of the NPS-FW deadline and a lack of resources have challenged the Council's engagement strategy with iwi and hapū.18 Council staff told us that they would like to take time to build relationships with iwi and hapū. However, the Council's regulatory role and the demands of the annual planning and reporting cycle make it difficult to set aside the time to do this.

We heard that better staff cultural awareness throughout the Council could lead to stronger partnerships. Council staff pointed to the Council's programme for improving the cultural awareness of its staff as a recent positive factor in the Council's approach to partnership with Māori. They highlighted a cultural competency course, including opportunities for visiting marae, and support for increased use of te reo Māori as examples of progress.

Other staff acknowledged this council-wide effort to improve organisational capability but also highlighted that "on the job" experience had been the most useful way of building their understanding of te ao Māori.

The Council's decision to appoint a navigator to help with the consenting process in Whanganui is helping to build relationships between hapū and those seeking consents. Council staff talked about how this council-funded role could be developed further to help hapū build understanding of consent legislation and their role in it.

Council staff told us that, at the early stages, some iwi and hapū representatives had raised concerns about the Council's approach to Oranga Wai. The Council had engaged with iwi representatives collectively as part of Oranga Wai. Iwi indicated they would have preferred to be engaged about their views on managing freshwater individually.

Council staff were responsive to these concerns, and the Council now focuses on engaging with iwi and hapū individually or in smaller groupings. Staff noted that not all iwi and hapū have taken up the invitation to engage.

Council staff felt that short timelines for completing projects do not always allow them to spend time forming strong and lasting relationships. One staff member told us that there can be a difference between how much iwi want to be involved in freshwater work and how much they can be involved. Staff sometimes find it hard to know what factors influence current levels of iwi or hapū engagement.

We heard that a significant challenge for the Council is how to navigate the NPS-FM's focus on targeted catchments while respecting Te Awa Tupua and the evolution of Te Heke Ngahuru.19 The Council is working with Whanganui iwi and hapū, and the Ministry for the Environment, on these issues.

Iwi and hapū want strong relationships with a wider range of teams within the Council

The location of the Council's offices and the centralisation of decision-making in Palmerston North mean that some iwi further from Palmerston North feel more disconnected from the Council than closer located iwi.

Iwi we spoke with felt that their relationships with Horizons Regional Council are moving in the right direction, but some felt that it is going slowly. They spoke positively about council staff who visit them in their rohe to carry out freshwater work and take the time to understand iwi and hapū perspectives on managing freshwater.

They also consider that increases in the number of resource consents that they receive for cultural impact assessment are a positive step forward in their relationships with the Council.

We heard that Oranga Wai, after some initial challenges, is enabling stronger relationships between the Council and some iwi and hapū. Iwi told us that the initial meetings about the Oranga Wai programme were difficult and that some problems persist, including the short time frames that the work has to be completed in.

Short time frames are a significant issue preventing people from taking time to establish relationships and build trust. We were told that "true partnership" will grow when government representatives are willing to spend time with iwi and hapū in their rohe, because this kind of engagement opens doors to better mutual understanding.

Ensuring that engagements with the Council are mutually beneficial is important to iwi and hapū. Some people we spoke with were interested in learning about the Council's approaches to freshwater management and creating opportunities for rangatahi to learn about managing freshwater. Others cited sharing their iwi's freshwater values as an opportunity to build council staff's capability in effective approaches to managing freshwater.

Relationships are stronger where iwi and hapū feel that council staff understand the value of mātauranga Māori and te reo Māori in freshwater management. People we spoke with appreciated the teams who worked with them on freshwater projects within their rohe and alongside the awa. Some acknowledged improvements in the Council's work to embrace mātauranga Māori and to listen and adapt when iwi want to manage freshwater in their rohe in different ways.

However, this has not always been a smooth process. Iwi described having to challenge the Council's standard processes to incorporate tikanga Māori and/or mātauranga Māori into freshwater management.

Sometimes, the Council responded positively to being challenged and changed its processes. One example of this – which was described to us as "ground-breaking" – was when an iwi was able to make a consent application orally in the presence of the awa that the resource consent related to. In another example, the Council made changes to an ecological plan to reflect an iwi's preferred ways of working.

Although this is positive, iwi and hapū felt that there needs to be a wider shift throughout the Council to support a more responsive approach to working with iwi and hapū.

Another area that iwi and hapū felt could be improved was more timely access to information from the Council. For example, one iwi told us that it had not yet heard back about a request for up-to-date water allocations in its rohe after several months.

Some people we spoke with felt that consent requests take too long to get to iwi or hapū for them to carry out their cultural assessments. This results in longer than necessary delays in processing consents for applicants, and creates the perception that iwi are holding up applications.

Iwi we spoke with wanted stronger relationships with a wider range of teams within the Council, from the senior level to operational staff. Being more responsive to the ways iwi and hapū want to work with the Council on managing freshwater was an important aspect of all of our discussions with iwi.

For example, some iwi want a greater council presence in their rohe, while iwi whose rohe cross multiple regional council boundaries would like regional councils to work together when engaging them on freshwater issues.

18: Our interviews took place before the Government extended the deadline to update regional freshwater plans to December 2027.

19: Te Heke Ngahuru is the strategy for the Whanganui River required by Te Awa Tupua Act 2017.