Environment and planning (19 November)

Environment and planning (19 November)

The environment and planning committee meeting was held on 19 November 2015. Apologies were received from Cr Edgar. All councillors were in attendance (with Cr Bouillir and Cr Sangster arriving late from their drive over the Takaka hill).

Cr Mirfin noted that the minutes from the last meeting were “a bit light”. I certainly share this concern. This is also a growing concern for a number of residents who show an interest in issues that council debates.

The agenda included: (1) national policy statement freshwater management, (2) private plan change for Wainui Bay (spat catching), (3) Alcohol licensing costs, (4) Food Act, (5) Annual Biodiversity report, (6) environment and planning services activity report, and (7) the chairs report. There were no public forum presentations. Much of the meeting was deciding to receive reports and approve public notification of them. I intend to highlight the main topics of interest.

A confidential (in committee) session was also held in relation to: (1) proposed rural land use subdivision plan change, and (2) building claim settlement. Workshops followed.

National policy statement freshwater management

The Freshwater Management national policy statement (NPS) was first introduced in 2011 and amended in 2014. The Freshwater Management NPS is being progressively implemented with full implementation by 2030. The work programme includes: completion of water allocation and flow management for the Waimea Plains water management zones, establishing community based advisory groups (FLAG groups) to develop water quality and quantity management provisions for Takaka and the Waimea Plains, scoping a land disturbance review )sediment and erosion control guidelines), and mapping of all wetlands.

Concerns were raised about the cost (and progress) of the FLAG groups. Some wondered if it was more cost effective (and timely) to just drive the process through public consultation, rather than engage stakeholders through the FLAG groups. While there was some merit in upfront timeliness, there was always the risk of downstream costs arising through appeal processes.

From my own experience, it is much more efficient to engage (and address issues) before going over the cliff edge, than addressing them on beach (under pressure). It also provides greater community engagement and transparency, as its all on the web to read (see http://www.tasman.govt.nz/environment/water/water-resource-management/water-catchment-management/water-management-partnerships-flags/). That said, it is incumbent on staff to ensure delivery expectations are met and any slippage (or scope creep) is avoided. Which is always hard when dealing with unpaid stakeholders.

Wainui Bay mussel spat catching

Wainui Bay mussel spat catching farms are considered nationally and regionally significant for quality and quantity of mussel spat. The private proposal seeks to extend the current resource consent in Wainui Bay beyond 2024, in order to provide commercial certainty. Council resolved to notify the public of the proposed plan change. The proposal is located on the councils webpage at www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/standing-committees-meetings/environment-and-planning-committee-meetings/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/EnvironmentPlanningCommittee/2015/2015-11-19/PrivatePlanChangeRequestWainuiBaySpatCatching.

Alcohol licensing costs

Council is required by law to publicly report the costs of providing alcohol licensing (see Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012). Alcohol charges are set by statute (and regulation). Council is authorised to make bylaws for fee setting (see Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Fee-setting Bylaws) Order 2013), but has chosen to adopt by default the national regulation (see Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Fees) Regulations 2013). This is because it is considered that establishing a bylaw would be a “significant cost” and council is better to just adopt the fees in the regulations.

In my opinion, the fee setting in the regulations could do with some serious fine tuning. Clubs and community events are given higher risk ratings than perhaps seems justifiable and this results in higher fees for these activities. If there is a trade off in the risk rating process, it needs to be for activities that have resulted in public nuisances or offences. This would incentivise greater compliance, or risk ratings and higher fees. Another anomaly is the treatment of online sales. This is something that the government needs to urgently review. Online sales need to be given a separate classification and risk rating in the regulations.

Period: 1 July 2014 to 30 June 2015

Total fees received: $197,946.00
Portion of fees passed to central government agency (ARLA) $13,970.00
Fees retained by council $183,976.00
Cost of administration $101,232.27
Cost of inspections $236,070.58
Cost of enforcement $5,5179.66
Total cost to council $342,482.51

Subsidisation by council is: 54% user pays and 46% rates funded. Staff aim to reduce the subsidation ratio to 60:40 through streamlining processes.

Interestingly, Ministry of Justice civil and constitutional unit general manager David King is reported as saying that the reforms aimed to improve New Zealand’s drinking culture and reduce the harm caused by excessive drinking. Mr King stated that:

The new system fairly reflects the cost of alcohol licensing . . . [it] aims to ensure licensing costs are met by the alcohol industry rather than ratepayers, who currently subsidise about 50 per cent, $5.4 million a year, of the system.

Empirical evidence (from Tasman) would suggest that the regulations still result in cross subsidisation of 50% or more. Perhaps its time for the Ministry of Justice to review if the regulations are working?

Food Act 2014 – new regulatory process

The new Food Act 2014 is soon to come into force. The Act provides for the council to provide registration and verification functions (from 1 March 2016). Similar to the Supply of Alcohol Regulations, the Food Act places food businesses into different risk categories which are then to operate under different regulatory controls.

The new feature of the Act is the separation of the registration function from the verification (audit and inspection) function. Only the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) and territorial authorities (like TDC) will be able to register food businesses. No change here.

However, verification is being opened to the private sector. This means verification functions can be provided by TDC, or an approved provider (like AsureQuality). Food businesses will either develop their own food control plans or be part of a registered national programme. Most small food businesses will fall under a registered national programme. At this time, there have been no draft templates or examples of national programmes. However, there is nothing stopping a business developing and submitting their own food control plans.

All private providers will have to apply for verification status. TDC is deemed to hold verification status for verifying “food control plans”. However, council will not have deemed verification status for verifying “national programmes”. Instead, TDC will have to apply (like private providers) to MPI for approval and show it has met all regulatory requirements (like a documented quality management system).

The total cost of acquiring approver status has not been determined by MPI yet. Estimated costs are $193.75 plus $155 per hour to process the application. The amount of time to process an application has yet to be disclosed. Staff anticipate that developing a documented quality management system will involve substantial staff time (and cost).

Council resolved not to provide a verification function given the uncertainties and potential cost. In my opinion, it seems strange to deem verification status for councils in relation to food control plans, but not national programmes (where there is likely to be cookie cutter approach).

I would have thought if councils are deemed to be able to verify high risk activities they should also be deemed to verify lower risk activities? The distinction makes no sense, other than it requires councils to incur additional costs. Surely if the council is good enough to verify a high risk activity, it is more than capable of verifying a lower risk activity? Basically, council should be deemed to provide verification services for both food control plans and national programmes. If councils do not offer verification services for small business, the private sector will (in the short term) take advantage and charge higher prices for verification services – hardly business friendly.

Interestingly, MPI’s response to the distinction (from my own enquiries) is that:

Businesses that will be required to operate under a national programme include a large variety of manufacturers that a number of TAs [territorial authorities] have not been working with so it not appropriate to provide automatic recognition to TAs to verify these businesses.”

Adding that:

MPI is considering further the recognition process for TAs that may wish to verify retailers that operate under national programmes and will provide more information to TAs in the near future.

It also concerns me that a new Act is about to come into force and a lot of administrative issues are still being resolved by MPI. This is most unsatisfactory. Especially for councils, who are very conscious of additional financial burdens being placed on them by central government. How can councils be expected to plan for the future if relevant financial information (like fees and costs) have not be resolved by MPI. Again, this is a serious issue that government need to review.

Interestingly, MPI’s response (to my enquiries) is that:

MPI is currently working on the assessment process for councils and other agencies to become recognised to verify businesses under the Act. At this stage we are unable to say how long will take, and therefore what the final cost will be. … we hope to send this information to councils before the end of the year. One of the reasons for this is that we are currently looking into ways that the recognition process could be simplified for councils wishing to verify national programme businesses that they currently inspect under the Food Hygiene Regulations (as mentioned). Councils are automatically recognised to verify template food control plans, so will only need to apply for recognition to verify national programme businesses or custom food control plans.

I will be watching with interest to see how this plays out.

Check out the MPI overview of the new Food Act and compliance tool at www.mpi.govt.nz/food-safety/food-act-2014/overview/.

Annual Biodiviersity report

This was an information only report. Generally, council’s biodiversity programme is focused generating reports on lowland ecosystems, mostly located on private land. And involves a district wide survey of natural areas outside of the conservation estate to assess the ecological significance of these areas. The reports are provided to landowners to assist in management of the identified sites. As at 30 September 2015, 469 sites had been inspected with 309 reports generated. Many reports have been used as reference documents when considering planning applications, and policy reviews. Landowners (farming or forestry) have also used them for funding applications for pest control and restoration planting.

Council obtained central government funding ($26,000 per year) through to June 2017, but will be fully funding this work from July 2017 (due to an absence of any external funding). Current costs are $62,000 per year and are planned to reduce to $56,500 from July 2017. It is expected that the remaining ten ecological districts will be completed within the next 10-12 years.

Environment services activity report

Highlights from the managers report include:

  • Shop trading hours. Local authorities will have the ability to put in place a bylaw allowing trading on Easter Sunday. Essentially, the political issue (and cost of consultation) has been shifted to local government. While this delegates the decision making to the regions, it comes at a cost. Ideally, government would have also provided the financial support to implement this shift in decision making.
  • Hearing delegation. Council resolved to appoint a commissioner to hear the proposed Waimea water management plan change and make recommendations to council. This allows council to rehear the matter if it disagrees with all or any part of the recommendations. The council could appoint the commissioner to hear and “decide” the matter. If it did this it could not revisit the decision. From my experience, there appears very little practical difference. Most councilors are reluctant to revisit recommendations due to the cost of a rehearing. Nor are they keen to engage with the affected parties to mediate any compromise over issues that council might disagree with.
  • Building consent fees. The consents team incurred a deficit of $41,661 due to additional costs in meeting statutory timeframes from resource shortages. The increase should address this shortfall. Comparatively, TDC fees will still be lower than Nelson or Marlborough councils. For example, a single story dwelling will now cost $3,394 in Tasman, $3,900 in nelson, and $4,070 in Marlborough. For work below a value of $50,000, fees are now similar.
  • Richmond CBD. The Richmond town centre project was separated into (1) the stormwater upgrade and reinstatement project, and (2) urban density and design (and parking standards review) project. Richmond councillors were delegated with reviewing associated documentation in relation to urban density project. Unfortunately, staff and I were not in full agreement (at our subsequent meeting) on what needed to go into the consultation documents. I had hoped for a map, to show the areas of possible effect (perhaps showing different walking distances). Something that would grab the attention of the public when they were skimming the document. In my opinion, a map would easily let ratepayers know what areas might be affected – and if they might be affected. Instead staff wanted to use text (eg “within 10 minutes walk of the CBD”). Staff reasoned (based on some external advice) that a map indicating walking distances might generate a negative reaction. After some discussion, a compromise was reached to display a map at public presentations (ie at the Mall and Library), rather than on the consultation documents. In my opinion, staff need to be more courageous and transparent – and less scared of receiving negative reactions from the public. The public are pretty smart, and if it’s a good story, will be supportive. It’s about having an honest and upfront culture.
  • Financials. Generally, expenses are operating within budget and income is ahead. In response to my query about the extra wage related and overhead costs, staff advised that it was due to staff working longer hours (and charging extra fees).
  • Rainfall. Total accumulated rainfall appears to be lagging the average. Either, there’s a big rainfall coming, or its getting dryer.

20151119EP-Rainfall-p78

Chairs reports

Cr Bryant advised that a second steering group meeting on a shared “Land Development Manual” was held on 21 October 2015. In his opinion, there are ongoing challenges (and some unresolved matters) to align the engineering standards for Tasman and Nelson. However, he was optimistic of a positive outcome for both councils.

In my opinion, the winners of this process will be both developers and ratepayers – by making it easier and more cost effective for everyone to comply with one set of common standards – certainty should increase and costs decline. This is also another example of a commitment towards a “shared” approach to local government issues.

Agenda and minutes

The agenda and minutes are located at www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/standing-committees-meetings/environment-and-planning-committee-meetings/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/EnvironmentPlanningCommittee/2015/2015-11-19.

Media

Nelson Mail (15 December 2015) www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/news/75082540/Tasman-District-Council-to-increase-building-consent-fees

Nelson Mail (25 November 2015) www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/aquaculture/74386525/Wainui-Bay-spat-catching-farms-seek-certainty-with-private-plan-change-request

Nelson Mail (29 October 2015) www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/news/73338768/Community-input-into-Queen-St-design

Nelson Mail (20 January 2016) www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/news/76363857/richmonds-queen-st-carriageway-in-for-a-full-remake-tdc-says

Nelson Live! (19 February 2016) www.nelsonlive.co.nz/news/2016/02/interest-in-queen-st-makeover/

Dominion Post (1 March 2015) www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/9777663/Small-clubs-say-new-laws-on-liquor-hitting-hard

 

 

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