Sympathy needs to be shallow over planning

By Alan Taylor

Several years ago Air New Zealand was forced to change the configuration of its jet exhausts because of howls of protest over noise levels at Wellington Airport.

Fair enough, as some nearby residents had family residential history in that location predating the Wright brothers and, furthermore, the airport is located in an urban zone.

The Chronicle has reported typically similar concerns in Westmere with complaints being laid about Windermere Berry Farm's bird-scaring gun, used to protect its crop. The device is loud and unsettling, evoking sympathy for the operation's neighbours.

Here the sympathy needs to be shallow. This is not an urban area (yet); the gardens have been an integral, productive component of the district for decades and were established well before any adjacent subdivision was envisaged. Locating to an area characterised (indeed, zoned) for specific activities and then objecting to the practices of the established industry operating is labelled "reverse sensitivity".

Reverse sensitivity is of concern for many agricultural endeavours, particularly those that are intensive in their programme and impact.

Examples extend from the disposal of dairy and piggery effluent, the noise of logging and sawmilling, smoke from agricultural burn-offs, aerial application of sprays and fertilisers, through to flies associated with poultry farming. Rural subdivision, the incubator of this sensitivity, has become sporadically widespread throughout a semi-circular zone on the best soils surrounding Wanganui.

This pattern is an understandable consequence of people seeking to live in what they perceive as a graceful environment close to their workplace.

That it is untidy and facilitates reverse sensitivity is also a consequence of a district plan that permits it in such uncontrolled fashion.

For Wanganui, rural planning inadequacies began in the days of the county councils three decades ago. One classic example where permission was sought to locate an animal slaughterhouse in an inappropriate area provoked the observation from an eminent planning judge that "ad hoc planning is no planning at all". Bad rural planning was the legacy left to, and not subsequently addressed successfully by, Wanganui District Council.

The rural phase of the Wanganui District Plan is now under review and council planners are seeking input. Without sound planning, our district economy will suffer significantly. The rural sector is critical in this.

Wanganui has few strings to its economic bow.

The key sectors of agriculture provide 23 per cent of district GDP and are responsible for 15 per cent of Wanganui District employment.

No facet of this vital industry should be restricted by creeping reverse sensitivity.

Make no mistake, rural residential living is essential for our social and cultural health by contributing to strength in our community and schools.

The revised plan must ensure that the problems of the past are addressed to enable people to live in areas they desire while concurrently fostering those rural enterprises we so desperately need.

It is inconceivable that any plan could permit the desires and prejudices of everyone and when choices have to be made the greater good must prevail. The protection of our economic wellbeing is arguably the greater good and quite achievable without compromising the natural geography that we still enjoy, however tempting it is to believe that the utopian environmental horse may have bolted.

Rural dwellers have already identified that we must deal with a myriad of complex issues.

Questions have been raised over the loss of Class I soils to subdivision, the appropriate size of subdivision lots, services to subdivisions (sewage, water, broadband), the proximity of trees, shelterbelts and buildings to boundaries, industrial noise levels, traffic safety zones outside schools, and forestry planting plans.

More should come.

Public input will assist in developing a plan that governs how we want our future rural area to look and feel like. We possess a seldom arising opportunity to mitigate past mistakes and implement innovative ideas. Full public consultation is scheduled for September and our preliminary input is being sought.

It is critical that we get it right because what we have now is going horribly wrong.

Alan Taylor is chairman of the Wanganui District Rural Community Board.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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