• Media release

06 Dec 2023

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Several steps are already under way to help manage the issues facing Southland District Council in its environmental services department.

Council chief executive Cameron McIntosh said the most pressing issue is the low staff numbers in the environmental consent team and this is exacerbated by the lack of experienced planners for the jobs Council does have.

“To help address these issues Council are already making changes. We are in the process of appointing a panel of suitably qualified consultants to ensure we can move through the backlog of consent applications and start moving forward.

“We have appointed Daniel Kinnoch to lead the resource consent team through the changes. Daniel was a principal planner at Auckland Council, and chaired and co-ordinated the resource consents community of practice (CoP) group. He was lead on countless process improvement initiatives, including digital consenting, reports, templates, practice and guidance. He now has his own planning company,” Mr McIntosh said.

Council’s new group manager regulatory services Adrian Humphries will start on 18 December and will lead the way on the group’s business improvement work, which has come out of the section 17A report carried out earlier this year. Mr Humphries comes to Council from Tasman District Council, where he was regulatory and recovery manager. He has worked in the regulatory arm of local government for the past 17 years.

“Our recent survey confirms that we are not achieving and these urgent steps are intended to address the performance issues,” Mr McIntosh said.

Council resolved at its last meeting to implement 12 recommendations from the review into the handling of the Environment Court case against Te Anau Downs Station and a draft implementation plan has been created. Alongside that, an internal steering group will be appointed by the chief executive to manage the delivery of the plan, which has funding of $600,000.

Three of the recommendations have been identified as urgent.

They are:

1. providing better information to landowners so they can understand the land use activities enabled or not enabled by the District Plan
2. increasing the budget for Council’s compliance monitoring and enforcement function, increasing the number of experienced personnel in this area and considering options to enhance Council’s capacity and capability to implement RMA requirements
3. urgently reviewing the biodiversity aspects of the District Plan to identify how it can give effect to the national policy standard for indigenous biodiversity, and clarify the
relationship between existing uses, permitted activities and the definitions applying to these, with a focus on how these may affect the clearance of indigenous vegetation.

However, Mr McIntosh acknowledged while the biodiversity standard was passed this year, the new government has clearly indicated it will be changing that.

“This highlights another problem for all councils as we can see by the 100-day plan of government that the new acts that replaced the Resource Management Act are going to be repealed, as are some of the national standards, but we don’t know with what,” he said.

Other recommendations have short to medium-term actions required while others are already under way, including ensuring future delegation powers and procedures remain robust, and ensuring there are clear lines of sight/overview/escalation upwards opportunities for the decision-making path on such matters as those that arose at Te Anau Downs Station, and that full discussion of such matters occurs at meetings of the executive leadership team.

Mr McIntosh said the plan was to bring everything together to manage as one to ensure nothing falls between the cracks, that there are enough staff to do the incoming work, and that key stakeholders can see incremental change as things process.

“We know we have a big challenge ahead of us but we already have some significant actions under way and we are working together to improve our customer service,” he said.

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