11 Oct 2019

Westland Mayor Bruce Smith says new environmental regulation burdening communities

2:48 pm on 11 October 2019

A West Coast mayor is warning new layers of regulation is a death knell for his community.

Manawatū Gorge.

Regulation to improve and protect freshwater is costly and there are warnings councils will pass on the bill to ratespayers. Photo: 123RF

The government is pushing for cleaner freshwater, better infrastructure for drinking and wastewater, and more protection for native plants and animals.

It's all a bit much for Westland Mayor Bruce Smith, with the big new demands coming on top of dealing with climate change and the day to day problems of running a local council.

The costs of more regulation were killing his community, and other regional communities across the country, he said.

"Ratepayers will carry the increased burden. There's already significant costs increasing with the regional council, and I feel a great deal of empathy for councilllors who sit around that table, and staff up there, where the costs are being imposed from Wellington - and they're at the sharp end."

He said locals weren't happy.

"Our rural sector is in disarray at the moment, they're depressed.

"We have an 'enough is enough' rally on the 17th of November, it will attract thousands of coasters, and they're all rural based."

District councils were having new laws dumped on them with the bill sent to ratepayers, and he wanted the government to help pay for it.

In Waikato the regional council's chairperson Alan Livingstone was also worried about what was on their plate.

"Freshwater, climate change, Treaty of Waitangi requirements, increased weed and pest compliance, flood control, excetera.

"It's that cumulative effect which is going to have a real impact on councils, and of course, the ratepayers."

Those ratepayers were also saying enough is enough, he said.

Local Government New Zealand head Dave Cull said councils had struggled to deal with all the consultation needed for the reforms, especially on smaller councils that didn't have the resources to get to it quickly.

"Also it's they have a cumulative effect, they interact with one another, so central freshwater reforms interact with RMA reform, possibly with indigenous biodiversity, urban development capacity, they all effect one another."

But the changes were necessary.

"It would be fair to say the previous government sat on a lot of stuff and didn't address some fairly urgent needs.

"This government is really, really ambitious about reform that's needed, and it's all come at once."

Environment Minister David Parker said up until now the government had failed to issue national policy statements with clear priorities, and environmental bottom lines.

He was aware of the costs and challenges for councils and was talking to them about how to help.

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