Massive public opposition against new Significant Natural Area classifications for thousands of hectares of land have prompted the Far North District Council to consider halting work on the controversial plans.
Far North District Council (FNDC) councillors met last night to decide whether to hit pause on the significant natural areas (SNAs) work after angry public meetings and days before a hikoi of opposition arrived at its headquarters in Kaikohe.
Mayor John Carter said discussions last night appeared to be in favour of calling a halt to the ongoing work. Associate Environment Minister James Shaw would be informed.
FNDC has come under fire for the way it has gone about public consultation over the issue.
"Far North District council did all that was required of us," Carter said. "But in hindsight, there may have been a better way to proceed."
Carter said the discussion was prompted by huge local reaction over plans for SNAs across the Far North. He said the opposition was the biggest he had seen over any issue in his decades as a central and local government politician.
More than 10,000 Far North properties have SNA classifications for their land which will add some restrictions on what use it could be put to while offering rates relief or inducements in return. About 300 of these properties have 100 per cent of their land classified as SNAs.
The controversial new zoning comes as the Government pushes for greater biodiversity protection across New Zealand.
FNDC has come under fire from Māori, farmers, environmentalists and more in the wake of sending out thousands of letters to landowners identified as having SNAs on their properties.
More than 280,000 hectares in the Far North have been mapped as potential SNAs. A total of 685 Significant Natural Areas been identified covering 282,696 hectares - about 42 per cent of the area of the Far North district. Of that 42 per cent, about half was public land.
SNAs were last mapped in the 1990s and identified about 30 per cent of the district's land. Council has said the increase is a result of more precise mapping technology.
Huge public opposition forced the council to hold an online SNAs questions-and-answers session yesterday chaired by an independent mediator from Wellington.
An SNA protest hīkoi on Friday was expected to see more than 1000 people converging on FNDC's head office in Kaikohe. An SNA rebellion meeting in Kawakawa this week saw more than 500 people decry their introduction. Hundreds have turned out to hui and meetings around the Far North.
Felicity Foy, an FNDC councillor at the meeting, said bringing in SNAs would place huge extra costs on FNDC and its ratepayers.
FNDC should pass the matter back to central government to implement and bear the cost of doing so.
Carter said he was not against the principle of protecting indigenous biodiversity through SNAs but the process of their implementation needed to be revisited.
FNDC councillor Kelly Stratford said a collaborative approach with the council's Treaty partners, farmers and others was required, instead of what had been done to date.