Letters come as a surprise to landowners

Some West Coast landowners are reeling after receiving letters informing them of new legal planning rules affecting their land — leaving the Te Tai o Poutini Plan committee scrambling to respond.

The letters to property owners reveal rules which have immediate effect on their land, regarding historic heritage, areas of significance to Maori, ecosystems and indigenous biodiversity, natural character and margins of water, activities on the surface of water and designations.

Kumara residents Russell and Mandy Spaan could not believe their eyes when they received a letter on July 18, revealing their 10ha block contained sites and areas of significance to Maori.

"We were wondering what the hell is going on," Mr Spaan said.

He was flummoxed and angry.

"I know nothing about it but when it said ‘significance to Maori’, I thought, what significance to Maori?’."

They tried to look for their property’s information on the e-plan but got a computer server error, and were now awaiting a response from the West Coast Regional Council.

Fellow Kumara residents Ian and Leanne Stewart have a farm by the Taramakau River terrace.

Mrs Stewart said the letter was shocking and would "put people on the anti" if they had no prior knowledge.

"It said ‘you may have something significant to Maori’ ... there’s nothing we knew of."

It was also unclear how the designation was arrived at, and it seemed premature, she said.

Mrs Spaan said the part about "rules with immediate legal effect" was upsetting.

"It just seems quite a threatening letter," she said.

Te Tai o Poutini Plan chairman Rex Williams said the letters had immediate legal effect as a requirement of the Resource Management Act.

He wanted to reassure affected landowners many of the provisions would have "little effect."

"Poutini Ngai Tahu have been careful to respect private property rights, therefore the vast majority of sites and areas of significance to Maori have no rules whatsoever and seek only to highlight a historical connection," Mr Williams said.

For the relatively few sites with rules, the consenting process had been simplified.

"To progress activities on the site, landowners will mostly require only a letter of authority from iwi."

Across the region, about 10 new historic heritage sites and three designations had been identified.

Allegations of "land grabs" and devaluing properties was very much scaremongering and disappointing, Mr Williams said.

Everyone could submit on the plan up until the end of September.

By Brendon McMahon

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