On Friday I will be supporting private landowners in Northland, especially rural land owners, all of who are affected by land redesignated as significant natural areas (SNAs).
Let me state first of all, I do believe in preserving indigenous biodiversity as do iwi and farmers and farming organisations. Farmers and iwi are conservationists.
What we disagree with is the process which clearly needs to be improved with much better community engagement before private land can simply be redesignated as a SNA.
The legislation is not new and many councils have actually already confronted and made their way through the process however many redesignations were in previous times when farmers especially weren't being hounded with policies such as climate change, water policies, and a ute tax.
This seems like a different time and set of circumstances for the Far North, Hutt Valley and West Coast district councils to name a few.
In my view, district councils are generally interpreting the legislation as best they can and the responsibility lies with central government. This is because the legislative pathway is from central government to regional councils to district councils.
I have been included on communications between local government and regional councils seeking a change to the current SNA process and replies have been of this nature "that there is not imperative to change the RPS [Regional Policy Statement around SNAs] as it accurately reflects the legislative position and unless we get clear instruction from central government the status quo remains in place".
It would seem that Northland is particularly affected with large areas of multiple owners of Māori land being redesignated.
An MP colleague of mine from Kaikoura described how after the Kaikoura earthquake large irrigation water pipes had broken and over time reeds grew where the pipes had broken and that these areas had now been redesignated as significant natural areas ! How can that be?
The recent Northland march on this issue was a real watershed and one of the biggest land marches for many years. It was embracing to see Māori and non-Māori marching side by side on an issue that affects everyone.
I think this is the next foreshore and seabed for this government with the same risk as it was to the Labour government that brought in that legislation.
The government of the day will need to take great care in working with communities and landowners to balance the goals that we all share.
Central government holds the legislative keys and our local Northland MPs, especially those in government, will need to be a strong voices in Wellington.
We need to see evidence that they have conveyed the grave concerns of local people and that they have extracted concessions and progress.
Protecting indigenous biodiversity is the right things to do but this has all the look of a land grab cloaked in kind words and Māori and non-Māori are standing together on this issue.