MP calls for council to halt its SNA policy
September 10, 2018
Hutt South MP Chris Bishop has called for Hutt City Council to halt a controversial programme aimed at protecting areas of natural significance and “go back to the drawing board”.
Speaking to Te Kārearea, Bishop said the process of identifying land under council’s Significant Natural Area’s policy (SNA) had been a shambles. “It was wrongheaded from the start.”
Bishop said early in the year the council had sent out letters, without warning, to about 1500 households in the Lower Hutt region, advising landowners that parts of their land had been classified as an SNA.
“At the time, no further context and no further details were given to the landowners.”
He said residents had consistently tried to get further information from the council, without success, creating a “considerable amount of unease in the community”.
An SNA can be designated on land, either private or public, which council has identified as a significant area of indigenous plant or animal species.
A designation can restrict the actions of landowners, such as clearing vegetation, subdividing or building on their land.
Under the Resource Management Act, councils are required to identify and protect significant areas of indigenous vegetation and fauna as “matters of national importance”.
Bishop said he understood the council’s obligations around protection, but was not convinced it needed such an “onerous approach”.
Other councils had taken a more “collaborative, constructive approach with landowners”, he said.
The SNA identification process had been carried out by aerial photography and did not amount to much more than “slicing and dicing” property into SNAs, he said.
Bishop said he knew of examples of where landowners were not allowed to put a BBQ patio or vegetable garden on their property due to an SNA on their land.
Council’s divisional manager district planning Drew Cumming said going back to the drawing board would not be practical.
“All this would achieve would be repeating work already done and increasing the cost significantly to ratepayers.This work still needs to be done and council is legally obliged to so under the RMA.”
While he acknowledged voluntary conservation from landowners was important, Cummings said an “opt-in” SNA process would not go far enough to meet council’s obligations.
He disagreed with Bishop’s assertion that landowners had difficulty getting further information.
“Council has been open and honest with landowners, there is no hidden agenda of land grabbing as some have suggested. Why this work is being done, the process and the possible impacts on landowners has been explained since the beginning.
“Council has been, and is, engaged face-to-face with landowners through information sessions in the affected communities, more than 50 one-to-one meetings, 250 phone and 400 email communications.”
The council was conducting site visits with landowners to ensure the SNA boundaries were accurate, which had resulted in some changes or removals of SNAs, he said.
Cummings also disputed that landowners with an SNA would not be able to build vegetable gardens or BBQ patios.
So far, SNA boundaries fell at a 10 metre distance from buildings, he said.
Cummings said landowners in the region had a variety of views about SNAs, with about a third against, a third in support and a third seeking more information about the policy.
The council was in the process of setting up a working group involving landowners, conservation groups and iwi, and were developing an incentive package for landowners with SNAs on their properties, he said.