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Council hampering release of information on Mangroves Bill

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Forest & Bird is frustrated one of the councils wanting to be exempted from environmental regulation when carrying out mangrove removal, has failed to provide relevant information sought by the conservation organisation.

Thames-Coromandel District Council and Hauraki District Council are seeking to be able to remove mangroves without a resource consent, via the Mangroves Management Bill currently before Parliament.

“We asked the two councils for their correspondence on the Mangroves Bill in October last year, because we wanted to understand why and how the Bill was being developed, whether they’d carried out adequate ecological assessments, and what sort of advice they’d received,” says Forest & Bird Central North Island Regional Manager Dr Rebecca Stirnemann.

Thames-Coromandel District Council failed to provide this information, despite intervention by the Ombudsman and an agreement from Forest & Bird to narrow the scope of the information request. They are continuing to insist on a charging hundreds of dollars for the information.

“The information we are seeking is needed for compiling Forest & Bird’s submission on the Bill. With just a week until submissions close, the situation is getting very frustrating.”

“The council is seeking a law change at considerable public expense. The cost to the council in providing this information is dwarfed by the cost to the country of the time of 120 MPs who will consider this legislation, the time of Government officials who will advise the select committee, the resources of Parliamentary Services in servicing the process, and the time and effort of those who will submit on the Bill.”

“The council is asking a lot from the New Zealand public, and needs to show greater transparency.”
Dr Stirnemann says that mangroves offer many environmental and economic benefits, and is concerned that the two councils lack the technical expertise to make decisions on the environmental impacts of clearing mangroves, or to assess the increased risk of natural hazards.

“We know that mangroves act as a natural buffer against increasingly frequent floods and storm surges, therefore protecting coastal property. Experts say recent flooding in the Firth of Thames would have been much worse were it not for mangroves.”

“Mangroves trap sediment and nutrients running off land, provide an important habitat for threatened birds and native fish, and also reduce marine acidification caused by increasing carbon dioxide – a process that impacts a range of marine species including shellfish.”

“The Resource Management Act exists for a reason – to manage human activities in a way that protects the environment, including our coastal environment. To allow two small councils to bypass the RMA and carry out their own mangrove removal with no independent oversight is very risky and simply not justified.”

Timeline:

  • On 24 October 2017, Forest & Bird put in a LGOIMA request to Thames-Coromandel District Council and Hauraki District Council, asking for correspondence on the Mangroves Management Bill
  • Hauraki District Council provided the information on time, and didn’t charge
  • TCDC asked for costs ($608)
  • On 8 December 2017, Forest & Bird referred to the  matter to the Ombudsman
  • The Ombudsman’s Office mediated – we agreed to narrow scope to emails since 2016 – in an email dated 1 February 2018 TCDC said that in their assessment the revised request shouldn’t take long to collate and on that basis they wouldn’t charge
  • The due date has now passed (9 Feb) and they now say it will take longer than anticipated to collate, and they will need to charge – the exact same amount of $608
  • Submissions on the Bill close in a week (23 Feb) and Forest & Bird still doesn’t have the information sought back in October.

Text of email sent to Thames-Coromandel District Council, 13 February 2018:

“Forest & Bird is considering its options in relation to the cost that the Thames Coromandel District Council is proposing to charge for the provision of information on the Mangrove Management Bill; Forest & Bird reminds the Council that it is seeking a law change at considerable public expense; The cost to the Thames Coromandel District Council in providing this information is dwarfed by the cost to the country of the time of 120 Members of Parliament who will consider this legislation, the time of Government officials who will advise the select committee, the resources of Parliamentary Services in servicing the process and the time and effort of those who will submit on the Bill.

The Council is asking a lot from the New Zealand public and needs to show greater transparency.”

 

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