As seen in the Otago Daily Times, July 21st 2015.
The outcome to be achieved by the fourth and final chapter of the Proposed Regional Policy Statement (“PRPS”) is that “people are able to use and enjoy Otago’s natural and built environment”. I had high hopes for this chapter. I hoped that I would find a series of enabling provisions to provide a tonic for the many restrictive policies in the preceding chapters. But also, I hoped that there would be more provisions to help facilitate activities that would allow the region address the single biggest issue identified through the consultation process, being employment. There are some kernels of useful policy in the chapter, but overall it is relatively lukewarm and in my opinion there is insufficient support for the activities that are the engine room of the region’s economy such as agriculture and tourism.
The chapter has 5 objectives that relate to enhancing public access, recognising the contribution of heritage to the region, ensuring sufficient land is managed and protected for economic production, ensuring that the community makes the most of natural and built resources, and that adverse effects of using and enjoying the environment are minimised.
Essentially we have an entire suite of objectives and policies to support public access and heritage respectively, but other significant uses and the ones that contribute hugely to the economic wellbeing of the region do not receive the benefit of the same treatment.
Objective 4.3 is the all encompassing objective designed to manage rural activities, central business districts, distribution of commercial activities, industrial activities and mineral and gas exploration. That is a broad range of topics to be addressed by one objective. The consequence of this is that each topic has a very narrow focus. For example, the policy for urban activities seeks to recognise the value of our central business districts. I am inclined to think that this is not the only aspect of urban land use that we should be thinking about. What about urban design that enables efficient development of public transport, or ensuring that urban development includes provision for services such as cycleways which are obviously of importance to a number of communities in the region? I accept that some of these matters have been identified in policy 3.6.6 which relates to reducing demand for fossil fuels. However, if the ORC really want to encourage development in this way it is helpful to have a number of policies that support it. Doing so makes for a much more compelling case.
Alternatively, if we take the policies that ‘support’ rural activity, there are two. The first talks of managing activities in rural areas including enabling farming and restricting the establishment of activities that might give rise to reverse sensitivity effects. That is all good stuff. However, I think there also need to be policies that enable the use of water for productive activities. There are a range of policies in other chapters that protect water quality and the ecosystem values it supports. However, there is no corresponding policy that enables water use. That is a significant missing link in the PRPS. There should also be some recognition for rural support activities such as meat and dairy processing. In my view rural activities really deserve their own objective and suite of supporting policies. The industry is of such significance to the region and in addressing that important issue, employment; a higher level of recognition is justified.
A higher level of recognition should also be given to tourism and/or commercial recreation activities. Given that those activities often call on natural resources of significance such as landscapes I believe that there need to be some provisions that support the use of those resources. Achieving this could perhaps be achieved by more policies supporting objective 4.4. That objective seeks to have communities make the most of the natural and built resources available for use. However, the policies are focussed water use, waste minimisation and environmental enhancement. Those are clearly not the only resources in the region that we should be making the most of. I think there is scope for more policy that seeks to enable activities that allow the community to gain access to and experience our outstanding natural landscapes, features and waterbodies (amongst other things). Doing this would provide support for tourism operations that sought to make the most of those resources within the Region.
Mr Woodhead, in the Chairman’s Foreword commented that “focusing on only the problems at hand risks missing the opportunities that present themselves and neglecting the bigger picture”. Despite being aware of that risk, it seems the ORC have not quite managed to avoid it. In my opinion chapter 4 of the PRPS misses the opportunity to make the most of the opportunities that the region has to improve its fortunes. All is not lost however. We all have an opportunity to have our say and try to ensure that the issues that are important to us do not go unnoticed. Submissions on the PRPS close this Friday, 24 July. So, speak now or forever hold your peace!