Regulatory management of cave: a Regional Council perspective

Robert Brodnax, Environment Waikato, PO Box 4010, Hamilton East, NZ

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:

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:

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:

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.

Figure 1 The Planning Framework

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:

To implement these principles, the following approach to plan development has been adopted:

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:

  1. 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.)
  2. Rules controlling the opening of new entrances into cave systems (due to the potential ecosystem and water quality effects of these activities)
  3. Restrictions on the placing of fill, overburden or waste in dolines or tomos.
  4. 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.

The Timetable

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 - AprilContinuing consultation with interested parties
August 1998Plan proposed for public submissions and hearing process
1999/2000Plan 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.