Have your say on protecting elite soils

In recent years Pukekohe, in Auckland, has seen housing encroach on fertile soils traditionally used for cultivating produce.

With the Government moving to protect our country’s most fertile and versatile land from being built on, the public has until October 10 to have their say on the proposal.

Announced mid-August by Environment Minister David Parker and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor, they say continuing to grow food in the volumes and quality we have come to expect in New Zealand depends on the availability of land and the quality of the soil.

“Once productive land is built on, we can’t use it for food production, which is why we need to act now,” says Damien.

“We cannot afford to lose our most highly productive land. It brings significant economic benefits including employment for nearby communities, and adds significant value to New Zealand’s primary sector.”

David says the Government’s draft National Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land – known as NPS-HPL – proposes a nationwide approach to protecting our most productive land for future generations.

“This stands alongside the new National Policy Statement for Urban Development, which will be released soon, to ensure we get the balance right and that the development we need is in the right place. We need to house our people and to feed them too.”

About 14 per cent of NZ’s land is categorised as highly productive. “It’s under increasing pressure from expanding urban areas and the growing number of lifestyle blocks,” says David.

“The NPS-HPL introduces a clear and consistent policy that councils must follow when making decisions on land use.

 “It proposes that councils be required to ensure there’s enough highly productive land available for primary production now and in the future, and protect it from inappropriate subdivision, use and development,” says David.

Full analysis

“Councils would need to do a full analysis of alternatives, benefits and costs when considering whether urban expansion should be located on highly productive land used for growing food and vegetables and for other primary production.”

The NPS-HPL also supports other important government priorities, including freshwater management.

“We appreciate the input and expertise of many organisations and individuals to the development of the discussion document and proposed National Policy Statement.

David says two-month consultation period on the proposal has begun, and he encourages “everyone with an interest to share their views”.

Horticulture NZ has welcomed the draft NPS-HPL, saying it will help ensure that NZ can grow its own vegetables and fruit.

“The policy statement recognises that NZ needs its best soils for domestic food production,” says HortNZ natural resources and environment manager Michelle Sands.

 “Once you build houses on our best soils, you cannot get them back. However, with good planning and buffer zones, houses and horticulture can co-exist, which is important for three main reasons.

“One, so growers can make best use of available land. Two, so growers can quickly get fresh produce to market; and three, so growers have access to workers, given how labour intensive horticulture is.”

Low emissions transition

Michelle says keeping our best soils for producing food is also important in the transition to a low emissions economy. “As the Paris Agreement states, countries need to find ways to adapt to climate change ‘in a manner that does not threaten food production’.

“NZ needs to ensure it is able to grow all the fresh and healthy food that it needs, in a world where it will be difficult to import fresh food due to climate change.”

Michelle says currently, poor rules are preventing new vegetables gardens being established to replace land lost to housing in Auckland. “We know the country needs more houses. However, the current situation means that horticulture land lost to houses cannot be replaced. This situation is also why we need central government to guide regional and district councils through policy statements like highly productive land, which recognise horticulture’s critical role in domestic food supply.”

The Government’s proposed NPS-HPL, to improve the way highly productive land is managed under the Resource Management Act 1991, is available at: www.mfe.govt.nz/consultation/proposed-nps-highly-productive-land

To review the proposal and make a submission, see: www.mpi.govt.nz/news-and-resources/consultations Consultation closes 5pm on October 10, 2019.


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