CONCERNS have been raised by councillors that “yet again” ratepayers will be expected to pick up the tab for new policies district councils will have to put in place at the behest of central Government.
The comments were made at yesterday’s Whakatane District Council Strategy and Policy Committee meeting as councillors received a report on the Government’s proposed National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity.
The Ministry for the Environment and the Department of Conservation are responsible for the proposed policy which would require local government to “maintain, protect, enhance and restore indigenous biodiversity from the impacts of human land use activities”.
Mayor Judy Turner said although the aim of the policy was worthwhile, she was concerned at the costs of implementing it, which would then be picked up by ratepayers.
It is expected implementation of the policy will cost the council $795,000 to $1,4 million over 30 years, with much of this cost being upfront.
“This is an example, yet again, of central Government putting in place policies which impact local government with no support and an expectation that ratepayers will meet the cost,” said Mrs Turner.
“The idea to protect biodiversity is commendable, but I expect this will cost far more that we realise.”
Senior policy planner Deborah Ganley said once the policy was enacted the council would be required to review all significant indigenous biodiversity sites, on public and private land, and implement an ongoing monitoring process to ensure there was no loss of biodiversity in the district.
Ms Ganley said the council had already done work to identify significant indigenous biodiversity sites, but she was unsure exactly what the council expected from councils when it asked them to “enhance and restore” these sites.
“The issue when we look at restoring these sites is, to what point are we restoring them back to?” she said.
“It is not clarified; I would expect we would need to restore the native ecology and ensure they are pest and predator free. We would probably need to enhance the environment for eel to survive and for whitebait to swim freely. I expect to enhance it back to pre-European times would be a step too far.”
There were also questions on how the council could enforce the policy on private land or who would meet the cost of enhancing sites on private land.
Ms Ganley said the Bay of Plenty Regional Council had already indicated it would work with the district council and share some of the costs.
Her report to councillors noted there could be frustration in the community as the proposed plan could infringe private ownership and use rights. It was noted that during the development of the district plan, which has provisions for land management with native vegetation, there was some opposition, particularly in areas where native firewood is harvested.
Councillor John Pullar asked if Government was likely to listen to the council “bleating” about costs.
Ms Ganley said Whakatane council’s concerns were shared by many other councils across the country and so its concerns would be echoed.
Councillors voted to support in part the proposed policy but to also formally raise concerns at the cost this would place upon the district’s ratepayers and that the requirement to review every two years be amended to 10 with the hope Government would settle on five-yearly reviews.
The council’s submission will also seek clarification on the level of restoration expected and how to manage migratory native birds.
The consultation period for the proposed policy closes on March 14 and is publicly available on the Ministry for the Environment website.
While the council is making its own submission, all interested parties can make separate submissions.
The policy can be reviewed, and submissions made at www.mfe.govt.nz/consultations/nps-indigenous-biodiversity