Council is reviewing all geothermal provisions in the Regional Natural Resources Plan and Rotorua Regional Geothermal Plan. 

Geothermal Plan review

The review of the regional plans will eventually be part of a formal Resource Management Act 1991 process, but there is a lot of work that is needed to get to that point. This includes:

  1. Reviewing our understanding of the resource (e.g. research, monitoring and modelling).
  2. Reviewing and monitoring the effectiveness of current planning provisions.
  3. Developing system management plans (a whole system approach) to inform policy.
  4. Identifying the community's values through community engagement.
  5. Weighing up different management options and their costs and benefits .

From this work we will develop informal draft plan provisions, before a formal plan change is publicly notified for submissions under the Act. This summary gives an overview of some of the work that has been done so far.

The Regional Policy Statement requires system management plans for some geothermal systems including Kawerau, Tauranga and Rotorua. 

System management plans ensure that where a system is being heavily used (either by a small number of larger users or by multiple small users) it is managed on a whole system basis in a sustainable way.

What does an SMP include?

The content for a system management plan is set out in the Regional Policy Statement and includes objectives for its overall management and strategies to achieve the objectives. However, there is no set template and it may take on varied forms and include additional information as suits the system to be managed.

Although it is not a statutory document, for Rotorua and Tauranga in particular, the content included in the system management plan will form the basis for changes to the geothermal provisions of the Regional Natural Resources Plan and the Rotorua Geothermal Regional Plan. For other systems (e.g. Conditional Development Systems), the system management plan might form part of information submitted in support of resource consent applications.

Who prepares an SMP?

Where there are a large number of small users, such as in the Rotorua and Tauranga systems, the Regional Council will prepare the system management plan. Where there are a small number of large users, the consent holders will generally prepare the system management plan.

Engagement

Engagement with the community throughout the plan review process is crucial.

We began our engagement in the Rotorua area in 2018 and extensive tangata whenua engagement has been undertaken already, including nine hui and additional targeted hui with iwi authorities.

The Ahi Kaa roa working Group, with tangata whenua representatives from Ōhinemutu, Ngapuna, Kuirau/Tarewa and Whakarearewa, has also been established to ensure the voice of these communities is heard through the plan change process. This roopu (group) has been meeting regularly since 2019 providing input into the plan review process, helping with the development of the issues and options discussion documents for the Rotorua geothermal system and more recently preparing the report Ngā wai ariki o Rotorua: He Kohikohinga, which focusses on Hau Kāinga perspectives on the health and wellbeing of geothermal taonga within Rotorua.

In September and October 2019 we undertook community engagement to share information about the state of the Rotorua geothermal system and to discuss and gather feedback on issues, objectives and policy options identified in the following documents:

Key themes we heard were:

  • Questions about how certain the science informing the plan review can be
  • Efficiency, use and innovation should be a focus
  • Incorporation of Mātauranga Māori principles a priority
  • Consenting and process barriers need to be addressed
  • Governance and ownership an unresolved issue
  • Bringing the community together to listen to differing views is important

Next steps

We are seeking to work with Maori, key stakeholders and the community to develop and draft the system management plan for Rotorua and then develop policies for geothermal to be included in our regional plan.

We will be continuing with engagement and keeping people informed throughout. We hope to have a draft System Management Plan for Rotorua completed by the end of 2021.