Govt vetoes ‘despised’ land laws

Cows graze on a Duntroon farm which would have been affected by proposed overlays in the Waitaki...
Cows graze on a Duntroon farm which would have been affected by proposed overlays in the Waitaki District Council's draft district plan. Photo: Wyatt Ryder
Waitaki landowners campaigning against environmental protections being placed on their land may have been saved by the government, which told councils not to bother identifying and protecting significant natural areas.

The Waitaki District Council has been met with protest and criticism from landowners upset with environmental classifications put on their land in the new draft district plan.

The two biggest points of contention have been areas of outstanding natural landscape (ONL) and significant natural areas (SNA), which restrict activities such as forestry and intensive farming.

The plan has dramatically changed, as last week the council purged all ONLs from land modified for agricultural or industrial use and yesterday the government announced it would cease the implementation of new SNAs.

The original draft would have added an extra ONL classification to 5% more of district’s freehold land and 1% for SNAs.

Mayor Gary Kircher said the announcement was welcome and there would be discussion in the coming weeks on the situation.

It was announced by Associate Environment Minister Andrew Hoggard, who said it was suspended for three years while the government replaced the resource management act (RMA).

SNAs represented "a confiscation of property rights and undermine conservation efforts by the people who care most about the environment: the people who make a living from it," he said.

Councils were no longer required to impose the classification, and the government was "sending a clear message that it would be unwise to bother," he said.

"The government is proposing to make the changes as quickly as possible to ensure councils and communities do not waste resources and effort implementing national direction requirements that may change following a review.

"I have also asked for a review of the operation of existing SNAs more broadly, including those implemented under the powers that councils have in the RMA."

He pointed to voluntary Queen Elizabeth II National Trust (QEII) covenants, which involve a legal agreement between with the landowner to protect sites, as an example of other working forms of protection.

"New Zealand currently has 180,000ha of privately-owned land in QEII covenants. The impressive engagement and growth of QEII covenants — all voluntary — shows that private landowners do care about conservation.

"This government will be taking a collaborative approach with them, rather than undermining their rights."

The Green Party has slammed the move, calling it "an assault on the future of wildlife that makes Aotearoa unique".

Environment spokeswoman Lan Pham said SNAs represented some of New Zealand’s most crucial pockets of natural habitat and were a sanctuary for rare and threatened indigenous species.

"Suspending the identification of SNAs and jeopardising existing ones condemns our flora and fauna to a future of continued decline and degradation.

"This short-sighted thinking from the government will be of detriment to future generations by depriving them of the opportunity to enjoy this country’s natural world as we and those who have come before us have."

Federated Farmers biodiversity spokesman Mark Hooper said the "unworkable rules were universally despised by farmers".

Beef + Lamb New Zealand chairwoman Kate Acland said the criteria for SNAs were "far too broad" and would have captured "huge swathes of sheep and beef farmland".

The Waitaki District Council has been contacted for comment. The next district plan review meeting is on April 4.