Weekly column by Kāpiti mayor K Gurunathan.
Last week I was reminded of the elderly Ōtaki couple Peter and Diane Standen who, back in 2013 were prosecuted by council for trimming a couple of native trees without a resource consent.
The Standens claimed the rotten branches posed a danger to their visiting grandchildren playing in the area.
When the story broke it caused a national PR disaster for council triggered by the then Environment Minister Amy Adams who jumped on the issue to support her push to reform the RMA by blaming overzealous councils.
As it turned out, the Environment Court threw out KCDC's case, describing it as trivial offending.
Last week, councillors approved a staff recommendation for a plan change to plug a gap in the District Plan rules which can be used to modify or remove large amounts of protected indigenous vegetation without the need to consider the negative impact on indigenous ecology and biodiversity.
Staff reminded that trimming to address safety risks would remain a permitted activity. I saw that as retaining the sensible balanced approach adopted by council following the Standen debacle.
The need for a balanced approach was again highlighted by the Government's release of an exposure draft on the National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity (NSPIB).
This comes hot on the heels of new legislation towards significantly greater intensification of urban residential areas in and around the country's main cities including Kāpiti as part of greater Wellington.
There is a tension between the push for greater urbanisation to solve the country's serious housing problems, and the need to protect our biodiversity in danger from climate change related collapse.
The government paper notes: "The benefits of biodiversity in urban spaces have been demonstrated to include noise buffering, shade, heat reduction, trapping particulates and other air-borne pollutants, absorbing carbon dioxide, as well as health benefits like stress reduction and improvements in mental wellbeing."
In publicising the NPSIB, the Ministry for the Environment (MfE)) said it intended to help understand the interactions between urban intensification and indigenous biodiversity national direction.
"The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development will continue to work with the Ministry for the Environment to test consistency and workability of the NPSIB with the Government's housing objectives," it added.
Given the inherent tensions, I was encouraged that MfE recognised that most councils will have notified the urbanisation changes before the NPSIB is gazetted, ie in the middle of councils' plan processes. While implementation of the NPSIB will be completed over five years following its gazette.
My understanding of this timeline is that the protection of our indigenous biodiversity will potentially be disadvantaged. It's here that the commitment of our council staff to use all existing tools to balance the critical need to solve our housing crisis while protecting our indigenous biodiversity is important.
The identifying and plugging of the loophole in the rules I mentioned earlier and the recent Stormwater Management Framework developed through a co-governance model with local iwi are examples of the fantastic work being done by council staff. Political leadership is needed to support this balance.