Written by Gerald Piddock
Waikato Regional councillors have voted in favour of an 18-month extension to allow more time for decisions to be made on Healthy Rivers - Wai Ora: Propose Plan Change 1.
The extension, which was asked for by council staff, came after it became clear a decision could not be made by October 22, 2018.
As a result, the decision-making deadline was extended to April 30, 2020.
This would allow the hearing panel that was set up to consider oral submissions more time to consider those submissions and recommend any changes to the plan change.
Speaking to councillors at a meeting on July 26, policy adviser Mark Foreman said several factors meant the council could no longer keep its original timeframe.
These included the number and complexity of submissions received, the increased time to allow for public hearings and the withdrawal and reinsertion of part of the plan change area and the notification of Variation 1.
This variation reinstated an area withdrawn in November 2016 to enable consultation with Pare Hauraki as an affected iwi.
The plan change's goal is to improve the water quality of the Waikato and Waipa rivers to a swimmable standard by bringing in a raft of rules around land use, farm environmental plans and nitrogen limits.
When it was notified for public submissions in 2016, it was expected the hearings and panel deliberations and a resulting council decision would take two years.
Foreman said there were consequences for having an 18-month extension. It meant the panel would make its recommendation to council around August 2019.
"The challenge we have got is that we have elections in 2019," he said.
Councillor Russ Rimmington said it was disappointing a decision could not have been made earlier. He questioned whether the delay decision could be used against the council if the decision went to court.
Foreman told him staff were "very aware" of that threat.
Cr Dal Minogue said he shared Rimmington's concern that it was not being decided on during this council term and the likelihood of the plan change becoming an election topic.
However, Cr Jennie Hayman said the extension would give the panel enough time that panel members would not feel pressured, leading to a better long-term result.
"The same applies to us," she said.