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Misapplication of the Resource Management Act

Hamish Levack, New Zealand Tree Grower May 2013.

In February, the Ministry for the Environment floated a paper which discusses some critical restrictions to more effective resource management. It also proposes ideas to produce greater national consistency and guidance, fewer and better resource management plans and better ways of working with councils to improve their RMA service performance.

Inexplicably, the paper does not mention forests − a resource which covers a third of New Zealand. However, it will be very good for forestry if there is more proactive planning and a more streamlined decision-making process. The current Kapiti Coast proposed district plan is an example of local planning that badly needs improvement.

Kapiti Coast proposed district plan

Kapiti’s current proposed district plan exhibits a barely concealed hostility for any vegetation which is not indigenous. The plan’s real objective seems to be a return of almost all the land in the district to the state it was in pre-European times. It seems to fail to recognise that New Zealand’s prosperity depends on an economically viable rural industry.

If implemented unmodified, the plan would diminish individual property ownership rights and values. The result would be that private land holders would have much less incentive to control pests and this would in fact accelerate indigenous forest degradation.

Perverse policies

The soil and water benefits of plantation forestry are also overlooked. In contradiction to the Wellington Regional Council’s Regional Soil Plan, and the proposed National Environmental Standards, which promote the conversion of erosion prone areas to forestry, the plan stipulates that plantation forestry should not be located on erosion prone areas.

Although many ridgelines have been covered in pine plantations for decades, the plan says that exotic afforestation and shelterbelts are to be avoided on all outstanding natural landscapes. In some cases, the plan incentivises the conversion of plantation forestry to pasture on steep country which would have significant detrimental environmental effects in terms of soil management, sedimentation and stream quality.

Without explaining the values and significance of a large ecological site which already consists of more than half of the Kapiti District, the plan proposes to extend it by including areas of reverting land on the Tararua foothills. Significant parts of these areas already contain plantation forests, could be used as plantation forestry, or could be returned to farmland, should the economics of livestock farming improve. This draconian proposal ignores the opportunity cost to owners of not being able to generate an economic return from their land.

Inequality and ineptitude

The proposed district plan also says that ‘Priority areas for restoration have been identified and have been mapped. These areas link fragmented ecosystems to create ecological corridors, and the benefit of restoration in these areas strengthens the biodiversity of the district.’ One of these corridors includes a half-kilometre wide swathe along parts of the southern side of the Otaki River.

In my family’s case about eight hectares of our land, which are currently either in pasture or exotic plantation forest, are included in this restoration zone. No mention is made of compensation for opportunity foregone, or the cost of establishing indigenous plants, implying serious potential inequities.

Contrary to the aim of encouraging indigenous vegetation, the plan is almost silent on the need to provide for the management of such corridors. In particular, animal pests, a factor which has the most detrimental effect on native biodiversity, are hardly mentioned.

Forestry has a right as a land use

Happily members of the Wellington Branch of the NZFFA and other rural landowners mustered dozens of high quality objections against the forestry-unfriendly components of the plan by the deadline for submissions. Perhaps our most powerful argument is that the proposed district plan’s current policy ‘that primary production can only occur if natural systems are protected’ is invalid because it conflicts with the RMA.

We say it should be replaced by a policy which says ‘that primary production activities will be provided for as the predominant use in the district’s rural areas and that adverse effects will be avoided, remedied or mitigated in order to achieve sustainable management of rural resources.’ Accepting this suggested policy, which after all is can be found in other district plans, would lead to a document that is much more favorably disposed towards forestry development. Forestry has a right to be enabled as land use, and the adverse effects, not that there are many of them, can be worked round. It will take a few months to find out if our objections result in any meaningful changes.

Hamish Levack is a member of the National Executive but this article represents his personal views.


One post

Post from Hamish & Glenis Levack on November 29, 2013 at 9:53pm

Forestry and district planning

The May 2013 issue of Tree Grower included an article which said that the proposed Kapiti Coast District Plan was a classic example of the misapplication of the Resource Management Act. The plan was strongly biased against commercial forestry. Furthermore, even though one of its main aims was to favour the enhancement of native vegetation, its policies would have led to accelerated indigenous forest degradation.

Members of the Wellington branch of the NZFFA and other rural land owners made up a block of about 50 people who strongly objected to the proposed plan. About half of this group made sequential verbal presentations, to the acclaim of a packed gallery at a recent District Council meeting.

All these presentations ended up by supporting a particularly damning submission by former Environment Court judge, Joan Allin, who described the proposed District Plan as ‘the worst I have seen in my career − by a considerable margin − in terms of structure and complexity, drafting and lack of attention to detail.’

The Mayor, Jenny Rowan, and her Council, who have been led astray by their naïve and incompetent staff, have had to eat humble pie. They commissioned one of New Zealand’s more respected planners, Leigh Auton, to determine by 2015 whether the proposed plan should continue to be progressed through the hearings process, be significantly changed, or be withdrawn in order to address our concerns.

It has been a victory for forestry, democracy and common sense, but the victory would not have been achieved without a few dedicated individuals raising the awareness of others and mustering their full cooperation.

Jenny Rowan lost the recent local election by an unusually big margin for an incumbent mayor. The clarity of the forestry hill country action group’s objections to the district plan process may well have contributed to this defeat.

Hamish Levack Wellington Branch

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