‘Mass confusion’ over changes to lake rules

‘Mass confusion’ over changes to lake rules

Rotorua Daily Post, Saturday Feb 7, 2015

Changes to the controversial nitrogen regulation rules for Lake Rotorua have resulted in more confusion than answers, concerned landowners say.

At a meeting of the Rotorua Lakes Council’s strategy, policy and finance committee this week, Bay of Plenty Regional Council water policy manager Stephen Lamb said changes had been made to the lake nitrate rules after taking into account the overwhelming feedback from landowners.

At the end of last year, more than 300 submissions were made to the regional council regarding the draft rules aimed at limiting the amount of nitrate seeping into Lake Rotorua.

As a result, 11 changes have been made around issues including resource consents, science legitimacy, social and economic impact, and communication.

But some landowners say the changes have only caused mass confusion and put a wedge between land-user groups.

“The main change that had people talking was the agreement to increase the permitted threshold [not requiring resource consents] from properties under 2ha to properties under 10ha.

“When people read that they thought it meant they were now excluded from the rules. I had small-block owners ringing me all happy saying the issue had been sorted since these rule changes and I’ve had to say ‘no, it’s not over, you’re kidding yourself’.

“Nothing’s changed, we are still limited by the amount of nitrogen allowed per hectare, it just means the people under 10ha don’t have to get a resource consent, but because that wasn’t clearly conveyed, people got confused.”

In its report, the regional council said while staff had maintained throughout the consultation that everyone would need to be a part of the lake solution, the rules structure had been reconsidered to fairly manage smaller blocks.

As a result of the change, properties under 10ha will not be required to apply for a resource consent but from 2022, will still be limited to emitting no more than 10kg of nitrogen per hectare.

Mr Stewart said the change had put a wedge between different groups.

“I feel sorry for the landowners who fall into the 10 to 40ha group because they really drew the short straw with these latest changes. We used to be all in the same boat but now the council has divided people and we were given no explanation as to why the consent structure was cut off at 10ha.”

Protect Rotorua member Angela Sharples said the 11 changes made to the rules showed the regional council was “beginning to think of the implications for land owners”.

“It has not been an easy process trying to effectively communicate these rules and what they will mean to the public and there definitely needs to be ongoing discussions with land owners.

“These changes are a positive step forward but more still needs to be done.”

Dr Sharples said other land owners had also rung her, confused about the meaning of the changes.

“I’ve had many people who own properties under 10ha call me saying because of the rule changes they were no longer affected and I’ve had to explain to them that’s not the case.

“I think it’s just very difficult for them to effectively communicate to concerned parties.”

She said the Protect Rotorua group hoped the council would ensure further public meetings were held to discuss these changes.

“The council needs to be actively engaging with landowners and opening channels for ongoing discussions. If the council doesn’t organise a public meeting we will organise one ourselves.”

A section-32 evaluation report on the social and economic impact of the rules will be released next month.

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council could not be contacted for comment.