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Riverbed controversy .. Hurunui farmer Dave Holland, left, with Rural Advocacy Network chairman Jamie McFadden. Mr Holland’s pasture below them, beside the Hurunui River, is considered riverbed under ECan’s 1-in-50-year flood modelling. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

By ROBYN BRISTOW

Dave Holland’s pristine riverside paddock would be the envy of any pastoral farmer.

However, the Hurunui farmer’s use of the land has been in question since Environment Canterbury (ECan) deemed it to be riverbed, based on a 1-in-50-year flood.

That classification restricts what Mr Holland can do with the land.

But a High Court ruling this week in an appeal by a Selwyn farmer against ECan’s position, provides some hope for Mr Holland and others in the same position. The court found that the 1-in-50-year policy applied by ECan to define riverbed was flawed.

The chairman of the Hurunui-based Rural Advocacy Network, Jamie McFadden, who had accused ECan of stealing freehold land in its quest to define riverbeds, says this is a great result for farmers. “We have been given an early Christmas present.”

The group says using floods to define riverbed “defies common sense and is not practical as a planning tool”.

It claims the information being used is inaccurate and based on unpublished desktop flood modelling.

The modelling has captured public roads, houses, lifestyle blocks and entire farms, the network says.

“Most of Waiau township in North Canterbury is mapped under riverbed lines,” Mr McFadden says.

The network says many Canterbury property owners are unaware of how their land is being zoned and were under threat of prosecution for using it.

The Resource Management Act is prescriptive around the definition of a riverbed and what can and cannot been done within its bounds, regardless of ownership.

Mr McFadden says if land is deemed riverbed, the zoning prohibits activities and landowners can be required to apply for resource consent to use it and carry out any activities.

One Waiau landowner was recently prosecuted and fined $34,000 for undertaking works on what he believed was his freehold land, but was
riverbed.

Several other farmers, faced with the prospect of losing the use of land or being prosecuted, had spent thousands of dollars on lawyers and experts to prove it was freehold land and not riverbed, Mr McFadden says.

The network agrees that riverbeds should be given high protection status under the Resource Management Act, but says it is far too severe to just draw lines on maps without any consultation with adjoining landowners.

At the centre of the objections is the ECan view that if land is prone to a 1-in-
50-year flood, it can be deemed riverbed.

“Based on the flood modelling, ECan has produced “draft riverbed lines” on maps along many rivers.”

There is no compensation for the loss of the use of the land and the network asserts the riverbed mapping has not been through a proper RMA public notification process, as required by law.

It believes it is also a breach of natural justice because of the lack of consultation with affected property owners, and because the desktop 1-in-50-
year mapping had significant inaccuracies.

“ECan’s actions are contrary to their duty of care obligations,” he asserts.

“Putting arbitrary lines on maps can, and is, having a huge detrimental impact on affected landowners,” he says.

He slammed a project aimed at consulting on riverbed boundaries on four
river sections throughout Canterbury.

The BRIDGE project was set up by ECan in response to the network’s and the
Hurunui-Waiau Zone Committee’s concerns over ECan’s “unpublished”
mapping of 1-in-50-year flood draft riverbed lines.

It is being trialled on four river reaches in Canterbury, including the Spotswood section of the Waiau river.
Mr McFadden calls the project a sham because ECan already had a predetermined outcome.

“ECan are facilitating these BRIDGE meetings to achieve their own agenda and are using people’s attendance as evidence of consultation.”

The project had been discussed at a recent Hurunui-Waiau Zone Committee meeting, and with its support, he says, the network has repeatedly
raised its concerns with ECan. It has “thus far been ignored”.

The zone committee strongly rejects the idea of using floods to define
riverbeds.

“If you want to find out if your land can be identified, or has been mapped as riverbed, contact ECan or your lawyer/consultants. Otherwise, do not
attract attention by undertaking major works on land that could be deemed
riverbed.”

Mr McFadden says ECan has the option of challenging the appeal decision.
He believes that if ECan wins on appeal, it will have major implications for
anyone with land that floods, or who bounds a waterway.

Collective action on behalf of property owners would then be a possibility, Mr
McFadden says.