Ōpōtiki District Council has voted to tighten animal control bylaws, but stopped short of banning the keeping of horses in the town centre altogether.
After giving the community two months to make submissions on the proposal to ban the keeping of horses in town, 105 submissions were put before a hearing committee on November 22, heavily weighted against the ban.
The recommendation from the committee is to work with the responsible horse owners to find a solution rather than punish everyone.
Horses became a huge problem in Ōpotiki following last year’s Covid-19 lockdown.
The town was inundated, with people grazing their horses on stopbanks, front lawns, the side of the road and placing them in paddocks they did not own or lease.
Horses were getting loose and roaming the streets in large groups causing safety issues with vehicles and pedestrians, damaging fences and raiding people’s vegetable patches.
Grazing on stopbanks also weakened the banks and risked stopbanks failing during a flood. The council had previously attempted to mitigate the problem by banning stallions and by introducing a register of horses kept in the township.
At the end of June, the council gave the community one month to come up with a solution before banning horses altogether. None of the measures have been successful.
In August, the council reviewed its bylaw, proposing to prohibit the keeping, but not the riding, of horses within the Ōpotiki township.
Riding horses is banned only in certain areas of the central business district, including the section of Church Street between Kelly and Richard streets, and the sections of Kelly, Elliott, King and Richard streets between Church and St John streets.
In September and October, the council conducted a two-month consultation procedure on its review. During this period, 16 people made submissions in support of the ban and 89 against.
Themes within the submissions were that the council should work with responsible horse owners, the damage caused to property and stopbanks by horses, horses being part of the culture and community of the town, public safety issues, longevity of the presence of horses in Ōpotiki and animal welfare concerns.
Nine submitters indicated that they wished to speak to their submissions at the hearing on November 22.
Of those, four attended, with the hearing committee made up of Mayor Lyn Riesterer, deputy mayor Shona Browne and councillors Debi Hocart, Barry Howe, David Moore and Steve Nelson.
Based on the strength of submissions, the hearing committee provided direction to staff that banning the keeping of horses in the town was not a solution they wished to pursue.
Instead, they should work with the horse community and responsible horse owners rather than entirely prohibiting all horses from the township.
The bylaws have been amended to reflect that horses are permitted to be kept in town on the condition that the horse owners provide council with evidence that their horses will be kept securely in a fenced paddock.
Other amendments include that council maintain its register of horses kept in the township. Owners who are keeping horses in secure paddocks within the township may do so provided the horses are identifiable to council’s satisfaction.
Photographs must be provided and other markings are also encouraged such as description, a microchip or branding.
Stallions continue to be banned. Unidentified horses are liable to be impounded by council.
Planning and regulatory group manager Gerard McCormack says rounding up of unsecured horses, particularly those around the stopbanks around town would proceed in the new year.
McCormack says council will do some publicity in the new year around what will happen with horses that are not in compliance with the new bylaw.
“But what I will say is that horses that aren’t in a secure fenced paddock, they will be the first ones that we will look to target to remove from the township, then we will start working with the community on the identification of horses. The horses around the stopbanks are probably the ones that are causing the most danger.”