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Sacred sites . . . Environmental protection for Maori rock art sites, that feature drawings like this bird pictured at a site near Albury, are one of several proposals in a new Environment Canterbury plan, up for public consultation. PHOTO: COURIER FILES

by Greta Yeoman

Protection for Māori rock art sites and changes to river flow levels are among the topics up for consultation in Environment Canterbury’s Plan Change 7.

The plan, put together by regional council staff and Opihi-Temuka-Orari-Pareora (OTOP) water zone committee members, is up for public consultation until mid-September.

ECan’s South Canterbury representative, Peter Scott, said preservation of rock art had been a subject raised by both tangata whenua and zone committee members.

The addition of the resource consents bylaws into the plan would enable ECan to properly document and protect the rock art around the region, he said.

Mātaitai, which are customary fishing areas, are also subject to new protection under the plan.

A Mātaitai Protection Zone is proposed, which will require a resource consent for any farm in the zone that is directly next to a body of water, and which carries out irrigation or winter grazing of cattle.

The zone also contains a large number of waipuna (springs) which are considered taonga (sacred) to Ngāi Tahu, particularly as these are important for protecting biodiversity and mahinga kai (a natural resource and the resources gathered from there).

ECan planning manager Andrew Parrish said new farms would be subject to the rules and resource consent applications stated in the plan, but existing farms would not need to comply until six months after the plan is operative.

Hearings on submissions were expected to be held in early 2020, Mr Parrish said.

Mr Scott said the recognition of Māori rock art was less to do with the presence of two Ngāi Tahu representatives on the council, but more due to the collaboration and discussions with Te Rūnanga o Arowhenua and Te Rūnanga o Waihao representatives that had prompted it.

The changes were similar to other work by the Upper Waitaki Zone Committee, in regards to that area’s sites, he said.

Mr Scott said as the rock art was of archaeological significance, it was a good time for that recognition to be formally recognised in a plan.

“In 2019, we can’t put our heads in the sand.”

While the document basically outlined what the OTOP Zone Committee wanted, it was now up to the public to have its say on the suggestions.

“It’s not finite yet.”

OTOP Zone Committee member and Te Rūnanga o Arowhenua kaumatua (elder) John Henry declined to comment, saying the rūnanga was still working through the implications of the potential changes for protecting the sites.

Ngāi Tahu referred The Courier back to Te Rūnanga o Arowhenua for iwi comment.

South Canterbury-based government-appointed ECan councillor Tom Lambie said the plan had been “huge work” for the zone committee and ECan planning staff.

He declined to comment on specifics of the plan because it was up for public consultation, but encouraged residents to read it themselves.

“I’m really keen for people to look at the document . . . [and] for the public to have their say.”

Federated Farmers South Canterbury president Jason Grant said he expected the farming body would put in a submission about the plan, particularly as some of the minimum flow changes would have an effect on farmers’ irrigation.

He said he did not know enough to comment on the rock art protection, nor of any farmers who had rock art on their farms.

Mr Grant encouraged all South Canterbury residents to look at the plan and decide what they supported or disagreed with, then submit on it.

“I hope most people will pay attention to it.”

Submissions on Plan Change 7 close on September 13.