Richard Peacocke on the Mackenzie Basin cubicle farming row

Why debate the greening of the Mackenzie Basin when in reality it is being overrun by weeds and wilding pines and the topsoil is being blown away?

Claire, I have just now caught up with your latest blog on the Mackenzie Basin.

In response:

Firstly, "sneaky":

There is a misunderstanding by some people as to the meaning of a compliance certificate (CC). Simply, a CC is formal confirmation of a permitted activity by Council and if sought and provided it complies, has to be issued - in other words it is confirmation of an activity that a farmer can undertake without reference to Council for a resource consent.

The applicants, in seeking CCs for "permitted activities" from WDC did so on the basis that once issued that had standing and precedence for a period of 5 years in the event of any possible plan change that WDC or ECan may decide to introduce. This is normal sound commercial practice for processes that go on for a long time (in our case 8 years so far). If the activities are permitted it is difficult to see how they can be challenged because they are lawful

The so called "win" that EDS achieved in having them set aside was simply as a consequence of an "illegal delegation" - in other words the staff member who signed them off was not the legally delegated party. This was an unfortunate oversight. Had these CCs been signed by the duly authorised staff member they would have been defended by WDC and indeed the applicants.

In having the CCs regranted, as was prudent and under the proper delegation, this simply was reconfirmation of the permitted status of the activities and they cannot be challenged as explained above.

The position with the resource consents (RCs) was again that the delegation was "illegal" with the consequence being that the applicants never had them - again nothing to defend. They were re-lodged for the same reason that they were applied for in the first place (same as CCs) however WDC determined that due to public interest they would now need to be notified.

The applicants accepted that the RCs would be subject to a public notification process and requested they be placed on hold pending confirmation from ECan that they would grant water for irrigation. This is not "sneaky" rather it is plain common sense - what is the point of having a public debate at considerable expense about an activity that is still dependent upon a separate unrelated process that may take another year or possibly 2 years to be determined.

"EDS was gobsmacked that the applicants had done this..... contrary to agreement....etc". This is patently incorrect. The agreement between EDS and the applicants states that "prior to the applicants reactivating their applications they would advise EDS". The applications have not been reactivated, they have simply been lodged and placed on hold and at the time they are activated then EDS will be advised. EDS are not disadvantaged in any way as they will have their opportunity to submit on the applications in due course.

It is perhaps important for your readers to appreciate that the applicants along with 34 other farmers have spent 8 years in the process of trying to gain consent to irrigate their land. They have been subject to one call in by the labour Govt that culminated in the creation of the Upper Waitaki Water Allocation Plan that allocated sufficient water to irrigate an additional 25,000 hectares. The 36 applicants have spent over $8m in their publicly notified application process with ECan to date and goodness knows how much more this is going to cost. There has been no sneakiness here as the hearing has run for over a year and has attracted hundreds of submissions from right across the community including all interest groups.

The potential income to the economy of NZ if water is granted to the applicant group is in the range of $100-150m per annum year on year on year basis - over $200m per annum if all applicants were to develop dairy farms. Additionally there would be 100s of jobs created in the Mackenzie Basin. This income compares more than favourably with the $600m over 3 years from the Hobbit movie for which the Govt paid millions to Warner Bros and changed the law to reclassify employees as contractors.

Greening of the Mackenzie - 2nd point:

The second point that I wish to make is that hieracium and wilding pines kill tussock. I refer you to Dr Peter Espie evidence to the ECan Hearing where he states that based on scientific evidence, the volume and number of tussock plants in the Tekapo reserve is now less than in 1992 and this is in a reserve where stock are excluded.

You folk do need to get real. When NZ was populated by Europeans they introduced species of weeds and pests to NZ that have had an immense and cumulative negative effect on natural biodiversity that can never be recovered and along with the burning of tussock by early Maori, the landscape has been changed forever. Sure you can spend millions replanting tussock and removing stock from the land but without water, removal of hieracium and wildings and close supervision the tussock will die.

Gorse, wilding pines of a number of species, hieracium, rats, cats, rabbits, possums, wasps etc, etc have had a huge effect. DOC, despite 30-40 years of hard graft is stating publicly that they have not been able to stem the flow of species extinction and now have shrinking financial resource going forward to even maintain their present level of control of weeds and pests.

The Mackenzie Basin is weed infested, the tussock is being destroyed by hieracium from below and wilding pines from above and the top soil is blowing away. Wilding pines are now growing unchecked to the snow line as a consequence of the Labour Govt policy of retiring all land above 900 metres and freeholding the balance. Sheep used to eat these young pines but no more, in 20 years the Mackenzie Basin will look like the tree infested Canadian Mountains. If you don't believe me then drive on the Canal Rd past the Salmon Farm between Tekapo A and B Power Stations and look across Lake Pukaki and you will see DOC Estate and retired farm land totally covered with pines - thousands and thousands of hectares - look to the rght towards the top end of Lake Pukaki and it is the same - and this is only the start. Doc own 245,000 hectares in the Mackenzie Basin, 17,000 hectares of flat land and they are struggling and now going backwards as a consequence of a reduction in funding of $59m per annum and heading south again next year.

Claire, I will be at Twizel for the EDS Symposium and would welcome the opportunity to show you and anyone else interested, our farms and discuss constructively how best to resolve a large number of complex and competing issues. You have my email address.

Richard Peacocke

Southdown Holdings Ltd, Williamson Holdings Ltd