Regulatory management of cave: a Regional Council perspective
This article represents notes from my presentation to the workshop and identifies some responses made to the points raised by the workshop attendees. The book is not closed on the Regional Plan Development Process, if you have an interest in cave management in the Waikato region it is imperative that you get involved in the consultation process on local authority planning documents.
Resource Management Act 1991
The Resource Management Act does not provide specific guidance on karst management. Max Harris (elsewhere in these proceedings) discussed the provisions of Part Two of the Act in detail. However the Act also contains a number of key presumptions in section 9 - 20. These presumptions can be loosely summarised as saying:
- Most uses of land are permitted unless restricted by a regional or district plan
- Most uses of river and lake beds cannot occur unless they are allowed by a resource consent or regional plan
- Activities in the coastal marine area cannot occur unless allowed by a resource consent or regional coastal plan
- The taking of water cannot occur except where allowed by a resource consent or regional plan
- Most discharges to air, land and water cannot occur except where allowed by a resource consent or regional plan
Environment Waikato (Waikato Regional Council)
The Regional Council (Environment Waikato) is one of the few regions in New Zealand to have significant karst resources. The region's boundary on the west coast of the North Island runs from the mouth of the Waikato River south to the Mokau River. This area incorporates the following frequently used caving areas:
- Port Waikato
In addition there are other less well explored caving areas throughout the Waitomo and Otorohanga Districts of the region.
Environment Waikato has a range of roles related to the management of karst environments. These roles arise from the agency's duties under the Resource Management Act 1991.
In particular, Section 30 of the Act provides Environment Waikato a range of functions including:
- Integrated management of natural and physical resources through the region.
- Soil conservation
- Activities in the beds of lakes and rivers
- Uses and discharges onto or into air, land and water
- Management of the Coastal Marine Area
All of these functions bear some relation to the management of karst resources.
The Waikato Regional Policy Statement
The Resource Management Act requires each Regional Council to prepare and maintain a Regional Policy Statement (RPS). The purpose of this document is to achieve integrated management of the region's natural and physical resources. It also is to provide guidance to District Councils such as Waitomo District as they prepare their District Plans. Figure One displays the relationship between the RPS and District and Regional Plans.
Some sections of the RPS are still under appeal to the Environment Court and are therefore not fully operative. However, the document still provides guidance for decision-makers.
The Waikato RPS does not provide specific objectives and policies related to the management of karst but it does direct Environment Waikato and territorial authorities to:
"Ensure that areas of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of indigenous flora and fauna are protected or enhanced when using or developing natural and physical resources." (Policy Two, Section 3.11.4 - Maintenance of Biodiversity)
"Ensure the Protection of Regionally Significant natural and cultural heritage resources" (Policy One, Section 3.15.2)
Other Sections set objectives for the management of water and soil resources and as such are also relevant to karst management.
The Waikato Regional Plan
The Resource Management Act allows regional councils to prepare Regional Plans. The purpose of such plans is to assist regional councils to perform their resource management functions.
Environment Waikato's approach to regional planning has been based upon the following key principles:
- An effects-based sector-neutral approach.
The Plan will focus on management of environmental effects. Plan development will focus on solving environmental problems, not procedural or industry specific problems. The plan will not pick winners and losers or focus on particular industries and ignore others with similar effects
- The Plan will make a positive contribution to environmental management decisions
- Management directions will be positive and enabling
The plan should strike a proctical balance between regulatory and non-regulatory approaches. The plan should encourage and reward those operating ot high environmental standards by enabling them to do their work where they are currently restricted. In the absence of rules in a regional plan, the Resource Management Act can be very restrictive. The plan is able to permit or otherwise enable activities with minor environmental effects that would otherwise require consents.
- Management directions will be fair
- The plan should provide a simple system for managing resources.
To implement these principles, the following approach to plan development has been adopted:
- All stakeholders given the opportunity to be involved in plan development
- Provide clear guidance on the objectives for managing resources or parts of resources
- Enable the use and development of resources while ensuring high environmental standards
- Minimising bureaucracy/creating an efficient and cost effective resource consent process
- Develop partnerships to manage adverse effects
- Recognise and provide for the interconnected nature of all elements of the environment.
What Does the Plan Mean for Karst Management?
At the time of the conference, Environment Waikato was only beginning to work on the karst aspects of the plan. The feedback received at the conference was that greater emphasis on karst management was required. As a result of the feedback, the Draft Consultative Plan has taken the following steps to recognise the importance of karst in the region:
- Criteria related to karst and caves have been included in the criteria for high risk erosion areas. Vegetation removal, earthworks and soil disturbance activities may require resource consents in these areas (depending on the scale of the activity etc.)
- Rules controlling the opening of new entrances into cave systems (due to the potential ecosystem and water quality effects of these activities)
- Restrictions on the placing of fill, overburden or waste in dolines or tomos.
- Trying to determine which parts of a cave comprise the beds of a river (the RMA definition of the bed of a river is not particularly clear for karst environments).
Stakeholders are being consulted about these criteria and the proposed rules that relate to them.
At the conference a draft timetable was presented. The timetable has been extended to allow further consultation on the plan to occur, so the opportunity remains for the cave management community to have input into the plan for the meantime. The key dates for the next year or so are:
|28 February 1998||Comments on Consultative Draft Regional Plan close|
|February - April||Continuing consultation with interested parties|
|August 1998||Plan proposed for public submissions and hearing process|
|1999/2000||Plan becomes operative|
If you want more information on the plan and how it relates to karst management, please contact either Bruce McAuliffe, Robert Brodnax or one of the other plan team members at Environment Waikato.