The Otago Conservation Board has consistently rejected the Department of Conservation’s 2013 decision to grant an increase in guided walk numbers on the Routeburn track – knowing that the decision was inconsistent with the National Park Management Plan it had approved. At a recent meeting the Board confirmed its stance.
Otago Conservation Board
Media release: 11 February 2015
Otago Conservation Board Response to the Ombudsman’s Opinion on the Department of Conservation’s decision on the Routeburn Walks Limited concession application
The recent Ombudsman’s opinion concerning the Department of Conservation’s decision in 2013 to grant a concession to Routeburn Walks Limited allowing an increase in overnight guided walkers was discussed by the Otago Conservation Board at its meeting and workshop on Monday.
Chas Tanner, a previous Conservation Board member, had taken a complaint to the Ombudsman, arguing that the decision by the Department to allow an increase in the number of guided walkers was inconsistent with the Mount Aspiring National Park Management Plan (MANPMP) and should have been declined.
The Otago Conservation Board at the time expressed deep concerns about the Department’s approval to grant the increase in guided walkers, as the then newly promulgated MANPMP had just been through an extensive public consultation process and had been signed off by the Otago Conservation Board, the New Zealand Conservation Authority and the Department of Conservation itself.
The Ombudsman’s concluding opinion was that the Department was unreasonable to grant a concession allowing an increase in the daily limit of walkers beyond that established in the Plan.
After its meeting on Monday, the Otago Conservation Board met with the Department’s Deputy Director-General Policy and Regulatory Services Doris Johnston to discuss the Ombudsman’s opinion and the actions the Department intends to take in response. The main focus of these actions would be to develop a set of guidelines which would assist staff to appropriately respond to future concession applications, especially those affecting National Parks.
Subsequent to this discussion, the Otago Conservation Board resolved to strongly endorse the Board’s previous statements that the granting of the concession was inconsistent with the Mount Aspiring National Park Management Plan.
The justification used by the Department for granting the increased number was one of “exceptional circumstance”. The Board concurred with the Ombudsman’s view that the reasons given by the departmental officers in claiming “exceptional circumstances” did not bear scrutiny.
Concerns were also expressed by the Board that allowing this variation to the Plan challenged the integrity of the careful and intensive consultative process that went into its establishment.
The Board did acknowledge, however, that the use in Plans of the word “should” implies that a degree of flexibility can be applied. This may become more relevant as the life of the Plan matures towards its ten-year cycle. The critical need then is to have a clear set of guidelines, publicly available, which would be used to advise the Department in considering the granting of concessions in National Parks.
The Board is very supportive of the Department’s initiatives in developing these guidelines, and is keen to contribute and assist where appropriate in their establishment.
Contact: Pat Garden, Otago Conservation Board Chair Mobile: 027 446 6762