Local ‘stunned’ over water proposals

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“Genuinely stunned” is Gore district chief executive Steve Parry’s response to the proposed changes to the Government’s environmental and water policy.

At an extraordinary council meeting on Tuesday, Mr Parry spoke to a report tabled at the meeting which he wrote after attending the Local Government New Zealand Freshwater Forum held on September 24.

Gore District mayor Tracy Hicks and councillor Glenys Dickson also attended the forum.

Mr Parry said he was alarmed at the potential economic and social impacts of the reforms proposed.

“I was genuinely stunned by the magnitude of the changes,” Mr Parry said.

In nearly 30 years of working in local government he could not recall central government reform that had the potential to affect the economic and social wellbeing of so many.

“Someone needs to blow the whistle and say look, we need to have some more meaningful dialogue before we sleepwalk our way into what could be a dreadful state of affairs for rural provincial New Zealand.”

Many of the speakers at the forum did not believe the reforms would achieve the improvement in the environment the Government was aiming for, he said.

“It would be a stiff pill to swallow” if the reforms were carried out at great expense and nothing changed.

Mr Hicks said it was important the council contributed to the discussion on the reforms.

“We should be submitting to this in a very strongly worded submission.”

Councillor Doug Grant agreed.

“As a council we need to come out wholeheartedly and submit on this because just about every single farmer I have been talking to . are just dumbstruck.

“They’re saying the Government doesn’t realise how severely this is going to affect their businesses.

“If it affects the rural economy it will affect the urban economy.”

Cr Dickson said there was no doubt changes needed to be made, because five of the 13 catchment areas in Southland were above the allowable nitrate levels.

There was also New Zealand’s reputation with overseas trading partners to be considered.

“We are trading with people who want us to be clean and green and not to pollute.”

Councillor Cliff Bolger compared the policy statement to “a particularly blunt instrument”.

It was “inappropriate” to apply the same standard to Northland as to Southland.

“One size fits all never, ever works.”

Perhaps central government should be encouraged to invest money in research to help solve the environmental problems, he said.

“We need a science-based approach .. over the years technology always has the answer.”

At the end of the discussion councillors John Gardyne, Bret Highsted, Cr Bolger and Cr Dickson volunteered to work with Mr Parry to prepare a submission on the proposals.

The official closing date for submissions is 5pm, October 17, 2019. However, submissions will be accepted for a further two weeks beyond that date, until October 31.