Deferment of the NES for Plantation Forestry
Since our recent update regarding the Government’s decision to defer the NES for Plantation Forestry (the NES) we have read the NES Cabinet Paper (the Paper) and the Cabinet decision.
In this article we respond to the reasons given in the Paper for deferring the NES and comment on proposals for Government officials to work with the forestry sector and other stakeholders in the future.
Reasons for deferral
The Paper identifies six issues that underpin the Government’s decision to defer the NES, each of which are discussed below:
(1) Loss of local variation and flexibility in planning rules
We do not consider this to be a significant issue because the proposed NES provided for local variation and flexibility. For example, different standards applied depending upon the erosion susceptibility of land in different areas and local authorities could set rules that are more stringent than the NES for specified activities.
(2) Concerns about the scale of erosion susceptibility mapping
In our view, mapping issues could be readily addressed if there was sufficient political will to proceed.
(3) Complex and lengthy rules in the NES
This concern is probably overstated – simplicity is preferable, however complexity of rules is nothing new in the RMA context.
(4) The NES is likely to establish a permitted baseline for earthworks and culverts that could be used by farmers and land developers
It is debatable whether the NES would in fact establish a permitted baseline for use by farmers and land developers. We are not aware of any caselaw supporting extension of the permitted baseline concept to standards within an NES that are directed toward management of a specific activity such as plantation forestry. Even if the permitted baseline could be extended in the manner suggested by the Paper, we have doubts about the significance of this issue.
(5) Plantation forestry does not generate a large number of resource consents
In our view, this misses the point because this outcome is achieved only through costly participation in district and regional plan review processes.
(6) More appropriate and efficient to address water quality issues through integrated reform rather than through a sector-based NES
The revised NES specifically precluded water quality targets in respect of sediment discharge concentrations. The NPS on fresh water and subsequent plan changes such as are occurring in the Otago and Canterbury Regions take precedence over the NES.
Individually or collectively, we consider the issues identified in the Paper are not persuasive reasons to defer the NES. The tenor of the Paper generally seeks to downplay the benefits of the NES for the forestry sector and other stakeholders and highlight the perceived problems. Our overall impression is that the Minister’s focus is squarely on the RMA reform package that is intended to be passed later this year. The NES is a project initiated by the Minister’s predecessor and appears to be a casualty of changing priorities.
Opportunities for officials to work with the forestry sector
The Paper records opportunities for officials from the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry for Primary Industries to work with the forestry sector and other stakeholders by exploring alternative or complimentary measures to address forestry issues. These are identified below, together with our comments.
(1) Development of recommended terms and conditions for forestry activities
We assume this work would dove-tail into the proposed RMA reforms to (a) combine planning instruments in a district (or region) and (b) develop a national template for particular activities. In the absence of a NES this seems the next best option for the forestry sector in respect of achieving more consistency in plan provisions.
(2) More work regarding scale issues in the erosion susceptibility mapping
This work may be justified if it will assist completion of (1) above.
(3) Audited Self Management systems
These systems may be of little benefit unless expressly recognised in planning instruments because they would simply duplicate district/regional plan requirements, instead of replacing them.
(4) Best practice guidelines on the QP website for plan provisions and consent conditions
This may be worthwhile if it provides a starting point for council planners when thinking about how to draft controls affecting the forestry sector. If QP website provisions were complemented by (1) above, then policy planners would be more likely to draft workable rules in the notified version of planning instruments. This may reduce need for forestry sector submissions, attendance at hearings etc. and associated costs.
For many, the decision to defer the NES will be disappointing, especially given the forestry sector’s investment in time and effort. Unfortunately, the reasons in the Paper do not seem to justify this outcome. The ‘silver lining’ perhaps lies in the Government’s continued support for engagement with the forestry sector. However, there remain questions about the utility of some of the proposed work streams and the forestry sector’s willingness to invest further resources in this project
Posted on Friday 31st May, 2013 at 01:58 pm