Timing putting Iwi, Council under pressure in water reforms

By Contributor

Council staff are asking iwi how best to work with hapū. Photo / Te Korimako o Taranaki

Taranaki Regional Council and iwi are struggling to implement freshwater reforms and fear the pressure may create tension between them.

Regional councils must develop plans to meet stricter government rules by the end of 2024, including a requirement for tangata whenua to be actively involved in freshwater planning and management.

Taranaki's freshwater plan will be part of an overall Natural Resources Plan the council aims to present by that date.

But as scientific work and consultation continues, a report to TRC's Policy and Planning Committee said the tight timeframe might make it difficult for staff and iwi to engage fully.

"This pressure may lead to a misalignment between the TRC and iwi/hapū that may create tension," said the report presented on Tuesday.

"There is likely to be a crunch point where [work on the plan] will need to continue to evolve and not all issues may have been able to be explored or resolved."

Planning manager Lisa Hawkins told the meeting staff were committed to effective partnerships with iwi but time pressure meant a "risk of burning these relationships."

Resource management director Fred McLay said similar pressures were present across TRC and were difficult to solve "as iwi have a whole lot of priorities - the Freshwater Plan is not the only one".

Iwi participation was being led by two independent pou taiao (environment planners) hired last August. Under an agreement with the eight iwi authorities of Taranaki, the pair were chosen by iwi, paid for by council, and administered by Te Kotahitanga o te Ātiawa.

The pou taiao were working with iwi in a monthly wananga programme and will feed into the plan.

Council staff were also asking iwi how best to work with hapū. Some iwi authorities worked with their hapū and then fed back through the pou taiao, while others wanted hapū to be directly involved with TRC.

Iwi representative Mitchell Ritai said the pou taiao could highlight to council the pressure on iwi to meet local government demands, and the variety of preferences.

"It's important that hapū can be involved directly, as some prefer to work that way."

Fellow iwi representative Emily Bailey asked the council to write to government about the pressure iwi faced: McLay said that could be done and it was a problem throughout the country.

The report said required consultation was also ongoing with other communities, special interest groups and technical groups.

Scientific work to establish environmental baselines was problematic: TRC held little or no information on many criteria in the government's new National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management.

It would mean "modelled data, expert opinion and professional judgement" would sometimes take the place of hard facts.

"The NPS-FM is clear that councils must use the best information available to give effect to its requirements. Decision-making cannot be delayed on the basis of having incomplete or uncertain information."

Council chief executive Steve Ruru said the government's end of 2024 deadline was a significant milestone and missing it would bring criticism and a "smack".

But he encouraged a focus on the end goal of cleaner freshwater, saying it was "a milestone on a bigger journey that will go on in perpetuity".

"We need to ask, what is the net milestone? Why are we doing this?"

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air