New Protection Measures Announced For Productive Whenua

Sept. 23, 2022, 7:48 p.m.

The Government has released a National Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land (NPS-HPL) to improve how we protect the country’s most productive farmland from residential development.

Over the last 20 years, 170,000 hectares of highly productive land have been converted into lifestyle blocks. The new national policy statement will require councils to identify, map, and manage highly productive land to ensure it’s available for growing vegetables, fruit, and other primary production.

“The protection of highly productive land has been a concern for food producers and scientists for more than two decades. The release of an NPS on highly productive land at least is an acknowledgement of the national importance that this issue has and the impact that continued loss has for our own food security, the wider Pacific food security and, of course, income from export," said Professor Amanda Black, Director of Bioprotection Aotearoa.

“The National Policy Statement will greatly improve how we protect highly-productive land from inappropriate subdivision, use and development. We need to house our people and to feed them too. Our cities and towns need to grow but not at the expense of the land that’s best suited to grow our food,” said Environment Minister David Parker.

The NPS-HPL will help protect our best growing areas to sustain access to leafy greens and other healthy foods.

“Councils will be required to identify, map and manage highly productive land to ensure it’s available for growing vegetables, fruit and other primary production, now and into the future” said Parker.

The Significant Natural Area rule that was brought into Far North District Council didn't arrive without resistance. Although Far North District Council maintained that the health and protection of whenua were at the forefront of the new legislation, it ended up getting binned because property owners were unhappy about the way that whenua was secretly mapped. Hīkoi and protests stood strong and many made their way to Council offices to make their voices heard.

Agriculture and Trade Minister, Damien O’Connor, said highly productive land provides food for New Zealanders, significant economic and employment benefits to communities and underpins the value of New Zealand’s primary sector. Will it be another SNA case?

“Once land is built on, it can no longer be used to grow food and fibre. That’s why we are moving to protect our most fertile and versatile land, especially in our main food production areas like Auckland, Waikato, Hawke’s Bay, Horowhenua and Canterbury, ” Damien O’Connor said.

Associate Agriculture Minister, Meka Whaitiri, said the Government has worked closely with local authorities, industry, growers, and Māori organisations to develop a policy that is workable and fit for purpose. 

“This policy statement supports the sector by ensuring our best land will remain available for food and fibre production,” Meka Whaitiri said.

The NPS-HPL sits alongside other national directions, including the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and the National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD). 

The NPS-HPL will work in a complementary way to the NPS-UD. Urban intensification enabled under the NPS-UD will reduce the demand for outward urban growth on highly productive land.

“This recognises that using land for primary production needs to occur within environmental limits, and ensures that all land can be used and managed to best effect,” David Parker said.

Councils, in limited circumstances, will still be able to rezone highly-productive land for urban housing if less productive land is not available, or if certain tests can be met.

As the housing shortage in Te Taitokerau intensifies, whispers circulate about collaborative housing projects in planning to help solve this issue which will utilise large land areas.

Will this new rule that aims to nourish the whenua and sustain kai productivity mean barriers may arise when trying to develop housing for those in need? Or will the production of kai work hand in hand with such developments?

The implementation of Māori representation within local government is important when it comes to situations like these when a Māori lens will be beneficial to ensure tikanga is embedded and implications the walls of whare tapa whā have been considered.

We know that when the land is healthy, so too are the people, but having to choose whether a roof is more important over kai wasn't something whānau may have considered. 

Māori wards are a new addition to Local Body Elections who are ready to share the voice of Māori.

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