west coast wetlands

Amendments to freshwater regulations

The Government has updated the Essential Freshwater 2020 regulations to support their effective implementation, and in response to consultation feedback.

Changes have been made to the:

A consenting pathway is now available for quarrying activities, landfills and cleanfill areas, mineral mining (with some additional controls on coal mining) and some urban development.

The consenting pathway has high threshold tests that relate to the significance of the activity, and if it needs to occur in that location or there is no practicable alternative location. The impacts of the activity must be managed through the ‘effects management hierarchy’.

The effects management hierarchy requires that an impact is avoided where practicable, or offset.

This will ensure there is no net loss of wetlands.

The definition of a ‘natural inland wetland’ has also been clarified, and it will now be easier to undertake activities that maintain and restore them.

The consent pathway for coal mining applies only to the operation and extension of existing mines in wetlands, with no new mines being permitted. For thermal coal, this consenting pathway will cease after 2030 (though consented mining can continue after that). These conditions are consistent with other government policy, including the phase-out of low and medium temperature coal fired boilers by 2037.

The wetland provisions in the NES-F have also been amended so they no longer apply in the coastal marine area. This follows a recent High Court decision, which identified that the NES-F wetland provisions could apply to a far greater portion of the coastal marine area than was intended. 

Wetlands in the coastal marine area will continue to be protected by New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement, regional coastal plans, and councils will still be required to have land use controls (rules) to stop sediment and other pollution getting into wetlands, to achieve environmental outcomes for estuaries and lagoons.

Wetlands in the coastal environment, but inland from the coastal marine area, will remain subject to the NES-F.

The Stock Exclusion Regulations use a map of low slope land that identifies areas where beef cattle and deer must be excluded from water bodies from 1 July 2025. Improvements to this map have been made to address concerns that the map was wrongly capturing some land. 

The Ministry for the Environment will explore whether additional refinement is needed, with a decision on any further change expected in 2023.

All changes announced today will come into effect on 5 January 2023.

In summary, the changes:

  • amend the NPS-FM and NES-F to:
    • clarify the definition of a natural wetland
    • provide consent pathways for certain activities
    • make restoration and wetland maintenance easier to undertake
    • improve the clarity of policies, reduce the complexity of drafting and, in some cases correct errors.
  • amend the NES-F so its wetland provisions no longer apply to wetlands in the coastal marine area
  • revise the low slope map for stock exclusion to address some inaccuracies and better capture land that was intended to be included. 

The following are related documents: