Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Biodiversity cost blowout for councils

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Federated Farmers is warning rural district councils could face cost blowouts in meeting the requirements of the Government’s National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity. Councils will have to map all land classified as a significant natural area in five years.
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They already have to protect and map those areas in district plans and many have already done so. 

However, the new policy changes the criteria of for those areas, meaning some councils might have to redo their mapping, Federated Farmers regional policy analyst Paul Le Miere told about 20 farmers at a meeting in Te Awamutu.

Once mapped the areas will also have to be verified, he said.

“This is really expensive and for ground-proofing and working it out you need an ecologist and because potentially there’s no size limit to a significant natural area you can get thousands of them.”

A number of smaller, less wealthy rural district councils with large areas of biodiversity are concerned about that.

“It’s a massive undertaking for them to have to do.”

He also questioned whether there are enough ecologists to meet the five-year time frame.

The Government recently released a draft of the policy for public submissions, which close on March 14.  Le Miere urged farmers to make a submission.

The cost concern is echoed by Local Government New Zealand.

A spokesman said “We’re concerned about the lack of prioritisation in the proposed policy statement.  

“First we must protect and then we must restore. Trying to restore every area all at once isn’t going to work with the resource we’ve got.

“For example, it will potentially demand a blanket approach to mapping significant natural areas. This will place a big burden on ratepayers in small places who will tend to have more areas of indigenous biodiversity.”

But the policy isn’t cost effective for them.

While it shares the Government’s aspirations the actions must be strategic and co-ordinated, not blanket and rushed, particularly, when the increased cost of the proposed policy is added to to the increased costs councils are facing through the essential freshwater programme.

It’s unclear how councils will be able to afford everything.

“There hasn’t been any national-scale modeling of the costs.”

Some councils have a lot of potential significant areas and a trained ecologist ground-truthing each will be a long and expensive process.  

For others, it will be a case of checking their existing schedule of significant areas is generally compliant with the requirements.  The amount of work and costs will be highly variable between councils.

The federation’s policy advisor Hillary Walker said the logic behind the policy is the lack of understanding across the country of what NZ has in terms of its indigenous biodiversity.  

“The reason for that is that each council has had 20-odd years of collecting data in a different and inconsistent way.”

Once all areas are properly mapped it will create a phenomenal data base, she said.

“It’s a good goal but it’s a matter of who pays for it.”

The premise of the policy is one thing but the reality is another, she said.

“Local government doesn’t have the money, we don’t have the money. Where is it coming from?” 

That point was reiterated by one of the farmers in the audience.

“This has been made by someone in Wellington and there is a massive disconnect between what’s happening in reality. There is not the money to support this.”

The federation is also concerned farmers might face restrictions on the buffer land bordering significant areas, Le Miere said.  

“There’s some potential creep in areas that buffer around potential significant natural areas.”

The policy also puts restrictions around new farming activities in a significant area. Such activities are defined as an activity that increases land use intensity. Walker said they are worried those restrictions could be applied to the land surrounding the area, affecting the landowner’s ability to farm it.

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