Coastal farmers under threat from policy statement

By Michael Bennett

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When Edward Aitken hops on his motorbike on his Banks Peninsula farm and looks up at the ridgeline he does not see an iconic museum piece, to be preserved regardless of cost. He sees sheep, fencelines and the generations of investment behind building a productive farm.

However, if the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement (NZCPS) is implemented by councils in its current form, he faces having his property frozen in time.

Under the NZCPS, large areas of farmland could be subject to lines on maps and rules in plans, in the name of looking after coastal environments.

The NZCPS provides the basis for managing New Zealand's coastal environments under the Resource Management Act. Councils have to make it happen through regional and district plans.

This policy has very strict management requirements for farmland with coastal associations. Its implementation involves mapping the coastal environment 'zone', which can stretch up to several kilometres inland where the landscape becomes more complex, such as Banks Peninsula.

The coastal policy statement sets a high bar of avoiding effects on coastal outstanding natural landscapes (ONL). To avoid effects, the landscape of the coastal environment must be defined precisely.

Avoid means just that; a proposal can only go ahead if it will not adversely effect landscape values, no matter how beneficial it may be to a community's overall financial or social fabric.

This flies in the face of the principle based Resource Management Act, where people can work towards a way of doing what they want, if they jump through the right hoops.

The NZCPS changes this. If you own land in a coastal ONL, there are no hoops and keeping the landscape as a monument frozen in time takes priority over any economic or social need.

This is potentially a major headache for Golden Bay farmer Nigel Harwood.

"Huge areas of my farm are supposedly ONL," Mr Harwood said.

"If the NZCPS goes over this land as well, how do I know if I will be able to put up a fence, maintain a track, re-grass or keep pasture clear of scrub?"

Every coastal farmer potentially has the same problem. The NZCPS does not leave scope for the necessary balancing of environmental protection against people's needs.

This is a big problem for farmer- council relationships as well. Many New Zealand councils do their best for rural communities despite a legislated anti-development agenda most have to balance their plans and policies against. How are council staff, seeking to do the best for their communities, going to cope with the destruction of relationships and loss of trust that will come with the NCPS' implementation?

For landscapes to be successfully managed on private land, for the public good, the fundamental starting point is having the landowner's trust and buy in.

Because farmers' problems are potentially so severe, the NZCPS needs some reform at a national level. Thousands of hectares of productive farmland and massive amounts of ratepayers money are under threat. From Federated Farmers' point of view, the NZCPS needs to be changed and now.

- Hamilton News

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