13 May 2013

Mackenzie Country deal aims at ending years of conflict

3:09 pm on 13 May 2013

A new agreement aims to resolve years of conflict between farming and environmental interests in South Canterbury's Mackenzie Country.

A forum of more than 20 local and national organisations worked for 16 months on the agreement which was unveiled on Sunday.

Tensions had flared in the Mackenzie Basin in 2009 over plans for a large-scale irrigation and intensive dairy farming in the Upper Waitaki catchment.

The agreement proposes a trust that would trade-offs, with approval for irrigation of some land in return for other land being set aside for conservation. Compensation may also be part of that.

The proposed Mackenzie Country Trust would require legislation and Government help with funding.

The chairperson of Mackenzie Sustainable Future trustees, Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean, says the new organisation would be able to look at individual cases to find a balance between agricultural development and environmental protection.

"The farmer might say, ok I'm prepared to put aside this amount of my property for conservation and the trade-off there will be that I will be able to do some more intensive agriculture."

John Murray who farms at Wolds Station is hoping the Government will agree to support the trust, which he says has the potential to sort out disagreements over land developments before they reach the courts.

He says the trust could help avoid the sort of expensive legal process over consents and district plans that he is caught up in.

Otago University emeritus professor of botany Alan Mark was involved in the negotiations that led to the agreement and says the area needs to be protected because it is unique.

A target of setting aside 100,000 hectares for conservation would be expected to cost $3.7 million a year, and it's not known how much of that might be needed from the Government.

The proposals will now be considered before any recommendations are made to the Government.