Nelson Marlborough Farming - Consultation key for success of Council plan

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Monday, April 4, 2016

One of the most important parts of any council’s annual plan is its ability to be flexible.

In fact, this applies to any plan that affects residents, industries and businesses.

A plan should be the result of a thorough collaborative process, one to which everyone affected has wholly subscribed and contributed to.

In the agriculture sector, as we all know, certain rules and regulations are vital to maintaining good farming practices, necessary safety standards, environmental standards and a myriad of other important factors.

But when these rules and regulations are placed within an overly complex framework, abiding by them can become too difficult in some cases and situations, and inevitably this lack of flexibility causes problems to arise.

The implementation of a framework that requires multiple layers of consenting with little link to the environmental outcomes sought, for instance, undermines the responsibilities and practices of the farmers it affects.

A too-rigid framework will result in the requirement of a consent simply to continue current practices.

Take, for instance, the important issue of water management.

The national policy statement covers what it is the Government wants and must achieve, but leaves it to local councils and, to a certain degree farmers themselves, to find ways of achieving this within their own climates and situations.

When a resulting plan to achieve this only provides rigid rules, that plan is effectively putting a straightjacket on those farmers, leaving them unable to adapt to changing circumstances, and limiting community and catchment-level responses to issues

They might have to apply for a resource consent to farm in a certain way, and then apply for a variance to that consent if there are changes in the receiving environment which require adaptation of practices, technology improvements which allow innovative responses, or advancements in scientific understanding which change our understanding of catchment processes.   None of that helps in achieving best environmental practice and, quite simply, creates mountains of unnecessary paperwork.

Once a plan is in place, the only way to change it is through a formal process which costs both time and money.

This is why a thorough, inclusive consultation between councils and their ratepayers is so vital.

In the long run, everyone benefits.