Proposed Plan Change 7 – Land and Water Regional Plan

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Proposed Plan Change 7 to the Land and Water Regional Plan (LWRP) was publicly notified on 20 July 2019 and is open for submission until 13 September 2019. The LWRP sets out the planning framework for the management of land and water resources in Canterbury.

PC7 is split into three parts, each with a separate focus and critical audience.

A. Region wide changes, include:

  1. Establishing a new nutrient framework for commercial vegetable growing operations;
  2. Protecting the habitat of indigenous freshwater species;
  3. Enabling the consideration of Ngāi Tahu values in relation to a broader range of activities; and
  4. Enabling consent holders in the Hinds/ Hekeao Plains area to substitute existing surface water or stream depleting groundwater consents for deeper groundwater.

B. Region specific water quality and quantity provisions in the Orari Temuka Opihi Pareora (OTOP) Zone.

C. Region specific water quality and quantity provisions in the Waimakariri Zone. Plan Change 2 (PC2) to the Waimakariri River Regional Plan was also notified on 20 July 2019 and addresses surface water and hydraulically connected groundwater within the Waimakariri sub-region.

All rules in PC7 and PC2 have legal effect. In practice, this means that existing (prior to 20 July 2019) permitted activities may now be required to obtain resource consent and new activities will need to assess both the operative LWRP and any applicable plan change provisions.

Commercial vegetable growers

PC7 seeks to establish a new nutrient framework for commercial vegetable growing operations. The operative LWRP nutrient management provisions do not adequately accommodate vegetable growing operations which are transient in nature and generate comparatively higher nutrient outputs. The new rules:

  • Require all commercial vegetable growing operations (except those less than 0.5ha) to obtain a land use consent and prepare and implement a farm environment management plan;
  • Restrict existing operations to an area no larger than that occupied during the period 2009-2013;
  • Recognise the need to rotate crops and require operations to meet good management practice (GMP); and 
  • Limit development (new operations, or extensions to existing operations) unless the lawful nitrogen loss rate at any new locations can be met.

Existing, lawfully established, commercial vegetable growing operations (greater than 0.5ha) may be able to continue without obtaining resource consent until PC7 becomes operative – post decision and resolution of any relevant appeal(s). However, this will depend on the scale of the operation and its environmental effects. 

OTOP and Waimakariri zones

Waimakariri: From the Waimakariri River in the south to the Hurunui River in the north

OTOP: Extends from the Rangitata River in the north to the Pareora River and Lyalldale Creek in the south – and inland to the Mackenzie Pass

Parts B and C of PC7 address the Waimakariri and OTOP zones specifically. There are key areas of focus for each zone but both contain new provisions to manage water quality and quantity.

Water quality

The freshwater outcomes for both zones are set to maintain existing good water quality and improve water quality where it is degraded, as required by the National Environmental Standard for Freshwater Management. PC7 has a particular focus on improving freshwater outcomes to enhance access for mahinga kai gathering and the improvement of aquatic ecosystems.

Across both zones, PC7 introduces additional requirements in relation to GMP, a concept that was introduced region-wide in Plan Change 5 – Nutrient Management and was subject to significant scrutiny. A key concern related to the use of Overseer and the online “farm portal” for calculating Baseline GMP loss rates for different land-use activities.

PC7 expands on PC5 to the extent that it forecasts nitrogen loss reductions beyond the Baseline GMP for some catchments where nitrogen loss is a high priority. These include – Rangitata/Orton, Fairlie Basin and Levels Plains (all within the wider OTOP zone) and a large area of the Ashley-Waimakariri Plains.

In the OTOP zone, PC7 introduces a new ‘High Nitrogen Concentration Areas’ overlay, where stepped nutrient reductions beyond Baseline GMP are required. The first stage of reductions beyond Baseline GMP are proposed to take effect in 2030 and reduction percentages differ dependant on land-use – 10% dairy and 5% other land use. Further reductions are required by 2035.

PC7 splits the Waimakariri zone in two – “Nitrate Priority Area Zone” (see below) and the “Runoff Zone”. In the Nitrate Priority Area Zone the new rules require nitrogen loss to be reduced by 15% (dairy) and 5% (other) beyond Baseline GMP by 2030, after which further reductions apply.

The operative LWRP does not require operators to comply with Baseline GMP until 1 July 2020, so many operators will not yet know what GMP looks like for their operations and whether it requires nutrient reductions from the status quo. It is possible that a further reduction on top of Baseline GMP may make their current operations untenable within the nutrient management framework. This “tightening of the belt” means that operators will need to look carefully at the efficiency of their farming operations.

Land-use consent to farm

Under PC7, both zones retain permitted activity farming land use. In the Waimakariri zone in order for a property to meet the permitted activity conditions it must now be 5ha or less (a reduction from the current 10ha limit).  Reductions are also proposed to the permitted activity level of winter grazing. 

The Waimakariri zone is proposed to also be subject to a common 2037 expiry date for future resource consent applications. For renewals post 2037 PC7 provides that consents cannot be granted for more than 10 years. The consent duration provisions also apply to consents authorising the discharge of nutrients from an irrigation scheme and all water permits.

Stock exclusion

The operative LWRP requires that stock are excluded from lakes, rivers or wetlands due to increased sediment (through pugging and damage to bed and banks) degrading water quality. Under PC7, in the OTOP and Waimakariri zones, stock are also proposed to be excluded from springs, and open drains and other water courses with surface water that discharge to a lake, river or wetland. The new provisions would require irrigation races or open water drainage channels to be fenced, which is both costly and may interfere with farm management.

Water quantity

New minimum environmental flow and allocation regimes are proposed for surface water bodies in both zones. In addition, some resource consents authorising the take of surface water, or high stream depleting groundwater permits will be reviewed by Environment Canterbury once PC7 becomes operative, with take amounts likely to be reduced to contribute towards reducing over allocation.

As a consequence of the new provisions, reliability of supply for some water abstractors will reduce. PC7 stages the introduction of revised minimum flows in an effort to allow time for irrigators and industry to adapt, however, further restrictions in already drought prone areas will be a hard pill to swallow. PC7 aims to phase out over allocation and will make the transfer of water permits out of zone increasingly difficult, with some areas requiring up to 75% of the water volume to be surrendered on transfer.

Action required

Many will see PC7 as another set of Regional Council initiated restrictions on the ability to farm, and may consider that the industry sector groups will fight the battle on behalf of the masses. Taking this ‘hands off’ view could be a costly mistake, which has potential to impact property values and viability of current and planned future operations.

For anyone looking to lease or purchase land, it is critical that environmental due diligence considers both the current rules (for existing compliance) and PC7 (future compliance).

The provisions of PC7 are site specific and we encourage you to carefully consider what the new rules, nitrogen loss reductions, minimum environmental flows and allocation regimes mean for the future of your operation.

If you would like assistance preparing a submission on PC7, or would like further detail on how PC7 may affect your property or business please contact Jamie Robinson or Katherine Forward.

Disclaimer: the content of this article is general in nature and not intended as a substitute for specific professional advice on any matter and should not be relied upon for that purpose

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