Council says biodiversity policy wrong

Vast areas of Central Otago farmland could be "arbitrarily" classified as having significant native vegetation or providing a habitat for threatened or rare native fauna, under a national biodiversity policy being opposed by the Central Otago District Council.

"Ill-conceived and wrong" was how deputy mayor Cr Neil Gillespie yesterday described the proposed national policy statement on indigenous biodiversity.

A submission on behalf of the council has been sent to the Ministry for the Environment.

Councillors discussed the submission yesterday and agreed to oppose the entire document.

The aim of the policy was to give a clear direction to local authorities on their responsibilities for managing native biodiversity under the Resource Management Act. A list of criteria was included for identifying areas of native vegetation and habitats of native fauna that were classified as being rare or threatened.

Under the policy, those areas are given additional protection through district and regional plans.

Council planning and environment manager Louise van der Voort said the policy could result in extensive areas of farm land "arbitrarily" being included in the district plan as having significant native vegetation or providing a significant habitat for native fauna.

According to the policy, Central Otago "topped the rankings" in the country as the territorial authority with the greatest area of unprotected native vegetation.

"We'd challenge that on the basis it fails to take into account land that has been placed in the conservation estate as a consequence of tenure review in recent years and the protection that is available through the relevant rules in our district plan," Mr Whitney said.

Cr Gillespie said although he agreed with protecting biodiversity, he objected to the process being adopted to achieve it.

"It looks like they have both of our arms up our back."

Cr Clair Higginson said the council should make it clear it valued biodiversity and was in favour of measures to support it.

Mayor Tony Lepper agreed and said the submission should include comments along those lines "instead of being rednecks and just saying chuck this policy out." "We should reiterate we are concerned about biodiversity and our district plan reflects that, but we think you've got it wrong, boys," Cr John Lane said.

Mr Whitney said the policy statement downplayed the cost that would be incurred by local authorities in complying with the policy and also the economic impact it would have on farming and mining.


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