Environment and planning committee (29 January 2015)

The environment and planning committee met on 29 January 2015. All councillors were present, except for Cr Ensor, with Crs Edgar, King, and the mayor arriving after the start of the meeting.

There was no public forum.

The meeting comprised the following information reports and items: (1) the proposed treatment of coastal occupation charges, (2) the proposed environmental policy programme and projects for 2015, (3) the state of the environment report, (4) 6-monthly environmental compliance report, (5) 6-monthly resource consents report, (5) dog control update report, (6) biodiversity report, (7) committee chairs report, and (8) the environment manager’s report (which included updating the committee on: a recent coroner’s report, approved plan change 22 for the Mapua-Ruby bay development, freedom camping, warmer healthier homes project, waimea rural fire authority, and TDC’s submission to the productivity commission).

Coastal occupation charge

This matter was discussed extensively at the environment and planning committee meeting of 13 November 2014, where it was agreed by participating councilors that TDC would not implement a coastal occupation charging regime. Staff were directed at that meeting to draft an appropriately worded plan change in accordance with that decision.

Accordingly, the committee unanimously resolved to approve the release of draft plan change 56 which stated that TDC would not impose a coastal occupation charging regime at present. This resolution will subsequently be presented to full council for approval, as all binding decisions of council must be made by the majority of the full council.

Coastal occupation charges are fees imposed on users of public spaces within the inshore marine coastal area and seabed. Effectively, the charges are a rent on the use of public marine spaces and replace the former Harbour Act lease and license regime. For example, the use of the sea bed for moorings, jetties, wharves, boat ramps, cables, pipes, or marine farms, could be charged by council if a coastal charging regime was established by council.

Why would council go through the hassle of making such a statement? Well, council is required by law (under ss 64A and 401 of the RMA) to consider whether it will implement coastal occupation charging regime and make a statement on such a regime. This requires the council to either state in its regional coastal plan that charges will not be imposed, or propose policies and rules for the implementation of such charges.

To date there have been few councils who have taken up the opportunity to charge for the use of the inshore seabed. No doubt this is a reflection of the complexity and cost of drafting, consulting, and implementing such a regime. From my perspective, there seems little net financial benefit for the community in implementing such a regime at this time. Given marine farming in this region is still in its infancy, the money that would be raised from such a regime, would probably only offset the cost of establishing and administering the regime. Such a money go round would benefit no one other than the council administrators. Further, it is far better to reduce (or avoid) any new red tape for businesses – especially when you want an industry to get a good foothold in Tasman, for the greater good of the regional economy.

A detailed evaluation report of the costs and benefits of adopting a coastal occupation charging regime is attached to the agenda (see pages 13 to 30). Interestingly, the evaluation report concluded that all coastal occupations (except jetty,wharves, and boat ramps) had greater private benefit than net public benefit and marine consent holders should compensate the public for the loss of use. No doubt when the marine farming industry become more established (and can afford to pay) costal occupation charges will be revisited by a future council.

2015 environmental policy programme

In the middle of 2014, a number of workshops were held so that councillors could review and prioritise the 34 proposed environmental programmes, that had been identified for consideration under the 10 year (2015-2025) Long-term Plan (LTP). These projects included: mooring and coastal occupation charges, significant landscapes, rural land use, storm water management, urban design, residential zoning, and water quality management. See the agenda (pages 31 to 50) for a full list of all projects and more detail.

The committee resolved to receive the planning manager’s report and directed staff to begin scoping the possible size, cost, and nature of prioritised projects for future council consideration, before any approved commencement of any project.

State of the environment for land and soil

The 2014 report on the environmental state of land and soil (see executive summary at pages 55 to 60 of the agenda) provides an update on the monitoring of soil in various locations of the region.

The report surveyed 6,005 locations for soil erosion and continued to monitor 25 locations (identified in 2000) for soil health, classification type, and mapping purposes. The mapping of soil types will help improve our knowledge of drainage and the required levels of irrigation.

The report has also monitored the changing use of land in the district. For example, between 1996 and 2008, there has been: a 10% increase (9,750 ha) in exotic forestry; 17% decrease (21,152 ha) in pasture; 95% increase (5,266 ha) in horticulture, viticulture, and cropping; 55% increase (1.073 ha) in urban use.

Interestingly, the dairy farming trend in the Tasman region is not following the national trend. Tasman dairy cow stock numbers have only increased by 1.2% (54,580 to 55,227 cows) compared to the national trend of 11% (or 2.56 cows per ha). In Tasman, total beef cattle numbers dropped 33% (56,155 to 42,268 cattle) from 2003 to 2013. For the same period, deer dropped 67% (33,537 to 14,259 deer).

The committee resolved to receive the report (ie, no decision, other than to receive the report, was required).

Compliance monitoring

The report provides a summary of the council’s compliance activities for the first half of the 2014-15 period (ie 1 July 2014 to 31 December 2014) in comparison to the prior 6-month period. For example, the volume and timing of complaints from ratepayers in relation to various activities.

Generally, complaints were slightly lower than the previous 6-month period, with complaints over air, water and land discharges from 2003 to 2013 still dominating staff time. Interestingly, only 5 freedom camping complaints were made. This would suggest that the new freedom camping rules are working well, although there appear to be still a few problems in Motueka (which I will discuss later).

One prosecution was successfully made against Awarua Farms Ltd and Mr Wooley in relation to dairy activities. Awarua Farms was fined $60,000 and Mr Wooley’s sentencing has been adjourned until 4 March in Blenheim. The only enforcement order activity for the 6-month period was made against CJ Industries Ltd (operating in Motueka) due to uncontrolled dust discharges from crushing activities. All requirements of the order have now been met and staff continue to monitor progress.

Stage 1 water rationing was implemented in the second week of December (ending 18 December). Compliance was very good and no infringement notices were issued. Despite the dry start (for the two months up to December 2014), metering shows water consumption figures of less than 50% across all zones. Recent rainfalls have also been appreciated.

All “1080” poisoning operations were extensively monitored by staff (especially given the level of public interest and potential effects). With the exception of one incident in the Lockett area (where some of the bait was applied outside of the designated control area, due to a combination of drop events and terrain), all operations were fully compliant.

Large scale earthworks have been occurring in the Richmond south area (Wensley Road, Fairise Drive, and Hart Road area). While work has been compliant with consent conditions, the work has resulted in a number of complaints from residents. From complaints, I have received, these have mainly been due to the frequency and noise of heavy trucks carrying soil from the development through a well established residential community.

Ideally, the consent conditions should have been consistent with the Olive estate development. Unfortunately, due to timing, the constraints placed on the Olive Estate development (to not use Fairise drive for heavy trucks) was not placed on the Wensley\Hart Road development. Ideally, council should have remedied the problem by enabling the developer to access Hill Street or Hart’s Road directly from when the inconsistency was identified.

Fortunately, my conversations with the developer’s trucking contractor were largely constructive, with the truck contractor agreeing to shift truck movements away from the densely populated Fairise Drive to Hill Street (albeit after 31 December 2014). Thus reducing the impact on the number of residents. I would like to take the opportunity to thank the contractor (and developer) for accommodating the wishes of residents outside of any legal requirement to do so.

Resource consents

There are three different types of resource consent: (1) notified (where all the public are made aware of the resource consent application), (2) limited notification (where only neighbours or those directly affected are made aware), and (3) non-notified (where generally only the applicant and council staff are aware of the application).

The graph below provides a comparative analysis of non-notified resource consents between 2014 and 2012. The graph also highlights how long it took for staff to process the 484 resource consent applications made in 2014. In 2014, only 4 non-notified resource consent applications required a hearing.

E&P20150129-Graph1

The following graph compares notified and non-notified consents for the same periods. It is quite marked that the volume of publicly notified and limited notification consents are very low. The data would appear to indicate that the notification process (ie public or limited) does not appear to have a material impact on the volume of resource consents that council process. Although it is noticeable that the time taken to process these applications is longer than most other non-notified applications (except coastal applications). No doubt this reflects the higher level of public participation in the consent process.

E&P20150129-Graph2

Another interesting piece of data is the outcome of resource decisions from various decision makers. The graph below illustrates the decisions made by those bodies. The majority of consent decisions are approved under delegated authority (by staff).

E&P20150129-Graph3

Interestingly, only independent commissioners appear to decline applications. In my opinion, the dramatic absence of applications being declined by a committee or panel (of councillors), or by staff, would appear to suggest that there might be some bias in the outcomes – either that, or independent commissioners have more difficult decisions to consider. I suspect independent commissioners are probably less prone to relying on reports provided by council staff when declining or approving consent applications.

There have been few objections to decisions made under delegation. Two from the previous year are yet to be resolved – one for a subdivision consent in Ruby Bay and the effect of Plan Change 22 (inundation prone land), and the second relating to conditions imposed on the proposed Mapua Drive development and the upgrade of road frontage. Three made in the last 6 months relate to coastal permits for marine farms at Wainui Bay, and a fourth concerns a Mapua subdivision development seeking a change to its consent application.

Plan change 22 (Maua-Ruby Bay development) has been the subject of 4 appeals in 2012. Three have been resolved by mutual consent. The fourth concerned a 3 ha site that flood modeling identified as prone to flooding. In December 2014, the court dismissed the developers appeal for 12 additional residential sites to be added to the development and confirmed that the district plan provisions for managing the hazard risks were appropriate, and that the additional sites increased the level of flooding risk.

Several court appeals heard over the last 6 months are summarised in the agenda (page 75). They included appeals against: coastal protection work conditions in Pakawau, subdivision intensification in Appleby Hills, subdivision reconfiguration within Pangatotara rural residential zone, and intensification of a rural residential zone in Seaton Valley Mapua.

The resource consent application for the Waimea Community Dam is expected to be released in February 2015.

Storm water

Interestingly staff have acknowledged (page 79) that “co-ordinating the management of stormwater flows from the eight development areas within the Wensley Block [Richmond South area] is an ongoing challenge”. I could not agree more, and its why council needs to ensure this area’s storm water issues are addressed in the short-term to mitigate any risk of flooding. I am already aware that some residents in the area are on their final insurance warning (ie, there will be no further insurance cover if buildings are flooded again). Council must ensure residential storm water issues are addressed before any other significant capital investment.

Muddy Buddy

Notably, an application to formalise use of the seabed in Moutre inlet for the “muddy buddy” event (held in March each year) has been granted on a non-notified track. The new track is now in an area well away from most sensitive shoreline habitat, and will alternate each year to reduce any impact on the surrounding estuary. Te Tau Ihu iwi have been very supportive of the consent.

This is a very positive outcome and reinforces the fact that the RMA does work. The surrounding estuary is a very important eco-system for the whole bay area and its use needs to be protected from unsustainable activities. Balancing the needs of the community while ensuring the environment is protected is a very positive outcome and staff should be congratulated in working though the legal issues in the RMA to get to the right outcome. Well done to everyone involved.

I would also like to congratulate TDC’s approach to the “monster slide” debacle that was happening over in Nelson during January 2015. I think the message that was taken home was that TDC is open for business. We now need to apply (and reinforce) that pro-active customer focused culture to the rest of the council’s operations on an ongoing basis.

Dog control

Generally (and comparatively), dog control is not very controversial for this council. By way of background, the number of dog owners in the district is 6,617 with the number of registered dogs being 10,227 (5,601 rural and 4,626 urban).

Most infringement notices relate to registration failure (159). Between July 2013 and June 2014, 8 dogs were classified as dangerous, and 45 dogs as having a menancing behaviour. However, there is still the odd prosecution for more serious incidents. For example, in May 2013, a dog was destroyed for attacking stock and another for attacking a horse on Rabbit island. In October 2013, a dog was destroyed for attacking a pet lamb.

Overall, the statistics suggest dogs are well controlled in the district and the bylaws are working effectively.

Biodiversity

The committee received the 2014 biodiversity report. A copy is available from the council’s webpage. The current programme costs $56,500 per year ($26,500 per year funded by council, and the remainder from the government’s Biofund). The biodiversity programme is designed to assist council meet its legal (RMA) responsibilities for protecting significant natural areas and maintaining indigenous biodiversity. With current resourcing it is estimated to take 15 years to complete assessment of all 16 ecological districts.

The biodiversity programme involves a number of separate projects undertaken on behalf of various stakeholders including council. For example, the native habitats Tasman (NHT) project started in 2007, is a district wide survey of natural areas, mainly on private land, to assess the ecological significance of these areas and provide owners with ecological reports to assist with the land’s management. Participation by landowners is voluntary. As at 30 September 2014, 420 sites had been assessed and 353 reports delivered to owners.

Due to recent changes to government funding criteria (meaning the organisation no longer qualifies for funding) the biodiversity project may need council to increase its funding from $26,000 to $56,000. A submission on the LTP to this effect is anticipated by council.

In my opinion, given the lack of government financial support for biodiversity, and no National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity (the 2010 draft remains on hold), that might have provided clarity for council’s in understanding the scope of their legal obligations, perhaps its timely to pause and take stock. This might mean no further funding is provided, so that the current programmes are undertaken at a slower pace than they are currently (if at all).

Manager’s report

The manager’s report contained a number of topics. I intend to only summarise the more significant items that drew councilor interest. In particular; the coroner’s report, freedom camping, and the warmer healthier homes project.

I would have also liked to have commented on the department’s financial position, but this information was not provided in the agenda. An action item to respond to questions raised about last month’s financial’s (which highlighted several cost over-runs) was also over-looked. Hopefully these will be answered in due course.

Coroner’s report

During the week of 15-16 June 2013, the home of Ms Hude Hivon was struck by a landslide. The home was located on Seperation Point granite soils and the dwelling was authorised for construction in 1961 as worker’s accomodation. The coroner investigated the incident and has made two recommendations directed at TDC. First, that side castings are not deposited along the outer edge of tracks above steep slopes. Secondly, that TDC give consideration to at risk sites prior to any consent being awarded. These recommendations will form part of a review of the land disturbance rules which will occur in 2015.

Freedom camping

Generally the rules have worked very well in the Tasman region. By way of brief background, freedom camping is a permitted activity for legal vehicles. However, it remains an illegal activity for non-compliant vehicles (eg, those offending vehicles that are not fully self contained).

Unfortunately, the Motueka beach reserve area continues to be an area of concern for many residents. The complaints are concerned with the occupants of illegal, non-self-contained camping vehicles (eg, vans without toilets, showers or washing facilities) using community facilities improperly and causing a general nuisance.

The main problem with the freedom camping by-law is enforcement. A major problem with the rules is proving someone camped illegally. At present this is established by visiting the site in the early evening and morning. Any offending vehicles present on both occasions are deemed to have been camping overnight illegally. To avoid being caught, offending vehicles either turn up late in the evening or leave early in the morning (or both). Council staff suggested increasing the time spent policing (at a cost of $15,000) to address the problem. Effectively asking for more resources.

The increase in enforcement costs did not get much support around the council table. Accordingly staff undertook to investigate other options and to report back to the committee.

Some councilors had argued for the area to be closed off completely, or for existing toilet facilities to be removed, and water to be switched off. However, it was pointed out that this would be an expensive exercise (more costs for council), and illegal campers would just move to another location and annoy other people.

In my opinion, council staff needed a mechanism to establish illegal camping more efficiently (ie involving less staff time – and therefore cost). This could be done by prohibiting specified vehicles (non-self contained camping vehicles) from being parked in the area between specific times (eg 9pm to 7am). The presence of a non-self-contained camping vehicle during this time might show sufficient intent to camp (and place the burden on the offender to prove otherwise). Officers could then appear an hour or so after the specified time and immediately issue tickets for both illegally parking and\or illegally camping. I also wondered if a pre-registration process (text your registration to council) would aid the process of identifying illegal freedom camping.

I look forward to the staff report that comes back with some more thought out (and less expensive) options.

Warmer healthier homes

Council has been involved in promoting better insulation and upgrading home heating through its Warm Tasman programme. However, with the expiration of government funding it is unlikely it will remain appealing to ratepayers and no doubt council will retire the programme.

An alternative programme established in 2004 is the “Warmer Healthier Homes” programme funded by the Canterbury Community Trust, Nelson Marlborough District Health Board, Absolute Energy, and Nelson Tasman Housing Trust. However, this initiative is much more narrowly focused and only targets low income households with respiratory health concerns. NCC has recently joined the project through committing $40,000 over two years.

This council has decided to watch how the project unfolds, before making any financial commitment at this time. Especially when it remains unclear to what degree Tasman ratepayers would benefit. Staff will report back before the conclusion of the LTP.

Agenda and minutes

A copy of the agenda report and minutes are located at http://www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/standing-committees-meetings/environment-and-planning-committee-meetings/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/EnvironmentPlanningCommittee/2015/2015-01-29.

Related newspaper items

http://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/communities/9770056/Muddy-Buddy-given-reprieve

http://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/news/8651887/Muddy-Buddy-a-foolish-idea

http://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/news/10336976/Scheme-to-insulate-homes-of-poor

http://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/news/65669601/Frustration-as-consents-take-longer-than-builds

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