Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Suspend land use curbs, says Groundswell

Neal Wallace
Lobby group seeks moratorium on RMA land classifications.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Proposed planning changes that will impose land use restrictions on 70% of the Waitaki district are evidence of the need for the Resource Management Act to be reformed, a lobby group says.

Groundswell environmental spokesperson Jamie McFadden said about half the 570,000 hectares proposed to be reclassified by the Waitaki District Council are privately owned.

Other councils, he said, are also using the policy in a way that infringes private property rights.

He blamed Section Six of the Resource Management Act (RMA) and said the government should suspend all regulatory land classifications. He said he has been approached by urban and rural private landowners with examples of councils restricting what they can do on their land.

The coalition government has instructed councils to halt work on identifying Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) that are part of that legislation, but McFadden said it needs to go further as it violates property rights and creates stress and uncertainty for landowners.

“The problem is the law, and not just SNAs. It’s the RMA Section Six, which is where it is all coming from.”

That section gives councils the power to impose one or multiple regulatory classifications on public and private land. These are Outstanding Natural Landscapes (ONL), Outstanding Natural Features (ONF), Significant Natural Features (SNF), Rural Scenic Landscapes (RSL), Rural Scenic (RS) and Sites and Areas of Significance to Māori (SASM).

McFadden said he has been contacted by a Wellington group concerned at how classifications are being imposed on private dwellings considered to have heritage value

The first a West Coast farmer knew that his whole farm had been designated a site and area of significance to Māori was in a letter from his local council, McFadden said.

An elderly Kāpiti couple had contractors working on their garden which, unknown to them, included native bush that had been designated a significant natural feature, he said.

When the gardeners disturbed the bush, which extended from council land onto their private land, the council pressed charges, which it later backed away from.

Another West Coast farmer, McFadden said, found their 120ha farm unsellable after the council determined it a significant wetland.

“Ordinary Kiwis have been suddenly caught up in with this issue, which shows how the law can go horribly wrong,” he said.

“One day they have no classification and they’re doing their own thing on their private land.

“Next day their property is classified and they’re captured in a system that requires resource consent, compliance or monitoring. More bureaucratic interference.”

Councils are determining the Act differently, he said.

He said the Waitaki District Council’s (WDC) proposed district plan will capture 570,000ha but his Hurunui District Council is winding back its regulatory classifications.

A WDC spokesperson said landowners will require a resource consent for non-permitted activities on land that has a classification.

“Within the classification, provisions still allow for farming and maintenance of existing farming infrastructure as permitted activities.”

If the proposed plan is passed by the council, landowners would require resource consent to undertake activities that could damage the values of the site.

Resource consent could be required for erecting large new buildings, planting exotic trees, agricultural intensification including irrigation, indigenous vegetation clearance, earthworks, mining or quarrying. 

The proposed plan is still subject to a hearing, submissions and appeals and has to be approved by the council.

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