On 22 April 2020, Waikato Regional Council (WRC) notified its decision on provisions and matters raised in submissions on Proposed Waikato Regional Plan Change 1 (PC1) for the Waikato and Waipa River Catchments.
Undoubtedly, PC1 is significant to all of the Waikato region and most particularly to rural land users. This significance is reflected in the 1063 submissions to WRC’s decision-making process. Moreover, it is likely that the decision will be appealed because of its vast impact on rural land use in the region.
What is PC1?
PC1 is a change to the Waikato Regional Plan that seeks to restore and protect the Waikato and Waipā Rivers by reducing the presence of four key contaminants: nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment and micro-bacterial pathogens. PC1 seeks to do this by introducing new rules (under Chapter 3.11) with additional controls on a wide range of farming activities. (Note that under PC1, farming means “the grazing of animals or the growing of produce, including grass, crops, commercial vegetable production, orchard produce, and free-range poultry.”)
PC1 has a complex set of rules that determine whether or not the activity is permitted and what type of resource consent would be needed depending on the intensity of farming use. All farming activities, even very low intensity farming of land less than 20 hectares (including hobby farming), will be subject to minimum standards and requirements under the new rules. Failing to comply with the minimum standards and requirements will result in the need for a resource consent. Please see our article on new rules and their implications on farming activities.
Also note that the new rules will complement existing rules in the Waikato Regional Plan, meaning the existing rules will continue to apply.
What are the new rules?
The new rules cover various farming activities by categorising them as permitted, or requiring resource consent. In summary the new rules provide for:
- Permitted activities which relate to small and low intensity farming;
- Interim permitted activities that allow existing farming to continue until the “application date” comes into play. PC1 includes a range of application dates that can be anything from 1 – 5 years after PC1 becomes operative, depending on the urgency of the catchment needing improvement.
- Controlled activities that apply to moderate intensity farming and existing commercial vegetable production.
- Restricted discretionary activities that apply to farming in the Whangamarino Wetland catchment.
- Discretionary activities that apply to farming in a collective, high intensity farming and commercial vegetable production expansion.
- Non-complying activities that arise from any change in the use of land to commercial vegetable production or dairy farming, or from forestry to farming.
The new rules introduce minimum farming standards under Schedule C which effectively apply to all farming activities.
Effect of PC1
Rural landowners/users must understand the implications of the new rules on their farms. There are likely to be prosecutions and penalties for non-compliance. There are also likely to be significant costs for farmers to simply comply with the new rules.
It is vital that any potential purchaser checks PC1 (if the land falls under PC1) as part of the due diligence to ensure that the proposed farming use is allowed (even by resource consent) and that compliance costs are acceptable.
Appeals against the decision
The decision on PC1 is very different from the document that was publicly notified and in our view, there remain some outcomes that will have very high compliance costs and will be impracticable on some farms.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the Environment Court has extended the appeals timeframe for individual submitters until 17 August 2020 and for other submitters (who have agreed to the council’s timeframe) until 7 July 2020.
Please contact our Resource Management specialist lawyers for detailed advice on PC1 and/or if you need assistance in lodging an appeal against the decision. Any rural purchasers should contact our Property or Rural Law teams for expert advice.
This article is current as at the date of publication and is only intended to provide general comments about the law. Harkness Henry accepts no responsibility for reliance by any person or organisation on the content of the article. Please contact the author of the article if you require specific advice about how the law applies to you.