RMA Needs Regional Input
The proposed tunnel between the Dart and Hollyford valleys may benefit big players in the tourist industry but will be disastrous for the Southland economy and the environment. Southland District Council Mayor, Frana Cardno, is very concerned about the negative impacts on her patch.When you consider the long term ramifications of this project and the planned lignite mining it makes me even more convinced that we need to have a comprehensive economic development strategy for our region.
Our regional authorities have struggled to cope with the rapid growth of the dairy industry, which has had a hugely negative impact on our waterways. While there could have been better management of the growth of this industry our local bodies can only manage consents and business projects on an individual, case by case, basis. Under the RMA there is no real capacity to reject a proposal because of broader issues around carbon emissions or because it isn't compatible with the main business activities in a region.
When Solid Energy gained a consent for their lignite briquette plant it was able to do so with restricted public consultation. This was despite the fact that the growth of lignite mining would have huge ramifications on the region and hugely increase New Zealand's carbon emissions. When corporate interests see economic possibilities in Southland it appears that they can generally get what they want.
It is up to our local councils to make decisions that benefit the wider community and are sustainable over time. While it is important to support new projects that have the potential to provide jobs and support the local economy, it is also important that a proper balance is achieved so that one project doesn't have negative consequences on existing or future activity. In the case of the lignite mining, Solid Energy have no plans to restore the mined land for farming and intend to turn the holes into lakes. The Dart/Hollyford tunnel will contain many tourists in a limited region to the advantage of the biggest players in the industry and the Kingston Flyer, Te Anau and the Southern Scenic Route will be hugely disadvantaged.
Venture Southland already has a large bank of research to provide the basis of a regional plan. They have the Topoclimate Survey, Southland's Energy Strategy and much research for the development of our silica resources and extending the possibilities of our rocket tracking station. A collaborative approach between the Southland District Council, the Gore District Council, the Invercargill City Council and Environment Southland would be needed establish a plan that would carry significant weight. There has been talk in the past of establishing one unitary authority for the whole Southland region to streamline regulatory processes and improve services. While there is less support for this to happen now, a cohesive Southland economic strategy would be useful for developing consistency across the region and to protect our regional interests.