Outstanding has become a dirty word to some as Northland councils formulate rules that will restrict development on land deemed visually significant.

About 2000 property owners in Whangarei and hundreds more in Kaipara and the Far North were affected by the mapping of Outstanding Natural Landscapes and Outstanding Natural Features (ONL and ONF), under which resource consent would be needed for activities like clearing native vegetation, extending a house, building a shed and earthworks.

The "outstanding" areas had been identified under Northland Regional Council's Regional Policy Statement (RPS), which district councils now have to implement.

ONLs were identified using a combination of characteristics including scenic value, naturalness, memorability and cultural value. Examples were Mangawhai Sandspit and the bush-clad hills at Whananaki. ONFs were discrete landforms - such as volcanic cones - and usually formed part of a landscape.


Whangarei's rural councillors were less than impressed with the concept.

"This is about people's private property rights," Whangarei District councillor Phil Halse said.

About 17 hectares of Mr Halse's own farm at Mata was under the ONL overlay. Much of this was native bush, though some of it was productive farmland, he said.

"My line runs between two paddocks. This demands I've got one set of rules on one side of the line, and a different set on the other," he said.

Councillor Shelley Deeming said the ONL policy penalised landowners who had planted up and cared for their land over generations, as there would now be additional restrictions on what they could do.

Councillor John Williamson successfully moved WDC take a "permissive and incentivised approach" to the landscapes' preservation.

"We will be encouraging people who are alongside these features to enhance them and do it with the assistance of council, not create a set of rules and regulations that say 'thou shalt not'," Mr Williamson said.

WDC planning committee chairman Greg Innes said incentives would likely be provided in conjunction with the NRC and could include help with fencing or an allowance for more intensive land use in non-ONL areas. Mr Innes said most ONL and ONF overlays were on public land and council had the ability to adjust the ONL boundaries on private property to a certain extent.

"It does get quite emotive because the whole issue of private right comes up," he said. "That was resolved at the regional council level. Now we have to put something in place that will be workable and acceptable."

He said the protection of natural features was overall, a positive. "These features are really the essence of Northland."

The landscape mapping would be incorporated into district plans - a process involving public consultation. The NRC is writing to affected property owners and draft coastal hazard maps are now also available through the regional council website via www.nrc.govt.nz/coastalhazardmaps. People without internet access can call 0800 002 004 to request a copy of the maps for their area.