22 Dec 2016

Settlement grants extra protection to Mackenzie Basin

11:39 am on 22 December 2016

The brakes will put on rampant dairy conversions of the Mackenzie Basin following an out-of-court settlement.

Mackenzie country looking towards Lake Ohau. The Mackenzie Basin could face a transformation as farmers look to intensify operations.

Mackenzie country looking towards Lake Ohau. Photo: RNZ / Graeme Acton

The agreement follows last week's Environment Court action by the Environmental Defence Society against the Mackenzie District Council.

It wanted the council to be forced to close a loophole allowing the iconic tussock-covered landscape to be converted to dairy farming.

Today the group and the council announced a settlement that would do just that.

The agreement would be in force for a year while a permanent change to planning rules was drawn up.

Environmental Defence Society head Gary Taylor said the council had been asleep at the wheel.

"This is an area of national importance being administered by a very small district council and they need to fulfil their legal responsibilities properly."

The basin was home to rare flora not found anywhere else in the country, he said.

But Mackenzie District Council said it had not been lax.

Chief executive Wayne Barnett also rejected the suggestion the council settled with the group to avoid an embarrassing court judgment against it.

"They've presented new information, our council has considered that new information and made the decision, so you could equally say that our council has been pretty open-minded in this and not been bloody-minded in defending a decision."

Claims from the Environmental Defence Society that his council had been unduly influenced by farming interests were not true, he said.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs