Federated Farmers is extremely disappointed with Otago Regional Council’s outright rejection of a multi-party request for a two week extension for all submitters on the Council’s Regional Policy Statement (RPS) review in light of the Covid lockdown.
“ORC chief executive Sarah Gardner – quite correctly – has told her staff that during the lockdown they should put themselves and their families first. But her wellbeing sentiments clearly don’t appear to extend to those outside Council,” Federated Farmers Otago President Mark Patterson says.
Submissions on the RPS are due on Friday, but the snap lockdown has effectively derailed many submitters from keeping to that deadline.
“Not only are there issues with available IT equipment, printed material, internet capacity, and the ability for submitters to work together, but there’s the complication of people now having to balance work tasks with home schooling and childcare responsibilities,” Mark said.
“On top of that, even prior to lockdown, our farmers and growers were facing significant stress and concern around access to necessary seasonal and full-time workers. Lockdown pressures have added to that, making it extremely difficult for farmers and growers to meaningfully and effectively find the time and energy to provide input to submissions.”
On August 24 Federated Farmers South Island Policy Manager Kim Reilly, writing also on behalf of HorticultureNZ, Beef + Lamb NZ, Otago Water Resource Users Group and Landpro Limited, and with the support of other parties, requested a two week extension for all submitters in light of COVID-19 lockdown impacts.
Feds understands at least one environmental group also wanted the extension, and a number of the councillors who were aware of our call backed it.
However, late on Friday Sarah Gardner rejected the request, and suggested instead that submitters should lodge late submissions, noting that Council had already granted above the minimum submission timeframe on this process.
“Our response is that the RPS is too important a document for submitters to gamble with missing a deadline on,” Mark said.
“Besides that, the fact Council initially granted above the minimum submission timeframe for submitters was to recognise that the submission period included weeks in which submitters were working on three concurrent ORC planning processes pushed straight to the Environment Court, and a number of critical national submissions.”
Council’s lack of empathy and ‘kindness’ is in direct contrast to the approach taken by the Government, which recently announced a fortnight extension to its own submission deadlines in light of the Covid19 lockdown.
“This RPS is a critical document for Otago and submitters need to have sufficient time to pull together robust and thoughtful input,” Mark said.
“Nobody is denying the need to ensure an efficient, timely and constructive planning and hearing process for the RPS, but it seems that yet again, Council is putting bureaucracy before wellbeing, and inflexibility ahead of long-term stakeholder relationship building,” Mark said.