• Media release

15 Nov 2023

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Southland District Council today accepted the findings of an independent review of the Te Anau Downs Station Environment Court decision and is starting work to address its 12 recommendations.

The review’s ultimate finding was that there was no single fault in a “decade long concert of factors aligned in a way that was difficult to foresee, difficult to avoid and difficult to navigate”. It highlights key issues and makes 12 recommendations to address Council processes and improve services.

Council agreed to:

  • Direct staff to prepare an implementation plan to address all 12 recommendations set out in the review, including timeframes and funding.
  • Prioritise work to urgently review the biodiversity aspects of the operative Southland District Plan to identify how it can give effect to the National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity 2023 and clarify the relationship between existing uses, permitted activities and the definitions of these.

Southland Mayor Rob Scott says the review makes it clear what Council needs to do to address the issues.

“There’s no doubt Council has a big job ahead of it. We need to do better for our community and we’re determined to make the necessary changes. We are taking the review’s findings very seriously: staff have been tasked with preparing a plan to deliver on all 12 recommendations and Council will be monitoring progress to ensure our regulatory and planning services meet the needs of the community. I’m confident the team we have in place can do what’s necessary.

“A top priority is a review of key sections of our District Plan. This is a significant and important job that will take some time to complete and is critical to our approach to compliance with the Resource Management Act. We know we are not the only council around the country dealing with these issues and we’ll seek to involve others in the process.”

The review was carried out by local government and environmental management consultant John Hutching and resource management lawyer Ian Gordon. The aim was to better understand the circumstances leading to the court decision to decline Council’s application for enforcement orders relating to indigenous growth clearance at Te Anau Downs Station, and a subsequent order that Council pay costs of $300,000.

The review concludes that “…there was no single action, fault or omission that caused the result. Rather a decade long concert of factors aligned in a way that was difficult to foresee, difficult to avoid and difficult to navigate”. It notes that, while performance was not always optimal, no single individual can be held to be most responsible and that there was nothing to suggest staff had an ‘‘over-zealous or idealistic approach’’.

Council chief executive Cameron McIntosh accepts the organisation should have done better in its approach to the Environment Court proceedings.

“We got it wrong and we know the local community is disappointed in the process. We also know there’s a lot of work ahead and we’ll need resourcing to bring our regulatory services up to par. This won’t happen overnight, but we know the areas we need to prioritise and we’re putting in place a detailed plan to deliver for our community.

“The fact the court proceedings ended the way they did indicates that we are significantly under-resourced in this area. It’s not simply a case of people ‘doing a better job’, it’s about having the right resource, sufficient experience, good processes and strong leadership in place. Creating the implementation plan and resource, our response is an investment in our community and in meeting the expectations of our residents.”

Read the Council resolution and Final Review here

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