Government ministers James Shaw and Nanaia Mahuta have written to councils across New Zealand encouraging some of them to stop their work on designating land to be significant natural areas (SNAs) in the wake of an outcry in parts of New Zealand.
Some land owners are fearful that having a designation of an SNA on privately owned land in a bid to protect flora and fauna will severely limit what they can do with it, in terms of clearing bush and draining swamps, and possibly reduce its value.
Another minister, agriculture minister Damien O'Connor, said any proven loss of value could result in a discussion about compensation.
Shaw, the Associate Environment Minister, said it would make sense for some councils to stop their work until a proposed national policy statement for indigenous biodiversity NPSIB) is finalised and published and people were clear about what it meant for SNAs.
Shaw said that was scheduled to happen before the end of the year.
National policy statements are a Government direction.
Mahuta was previously in charge of developing the national policy statement, but she is involved now as Local Government Minister.
"She and I have written to councils to say look councils that need to pause in order to reset the process and do so once the guidance is out, can and should do so," Shaw told the Herald.
The biggest response and protest this week has come from the Far North District Council which sent letters to 8000 letters to landowners saying they had a possible SNA on their land.
That prompted two meetings in Kawakawa, attended by a total of 700 people, and a protest hikoi is planned in Kaikohe on Friday, with Northland having a large number of Māori land owners.
Shaw met Far North Mayor John Carter in the Beehive today and Carter has agreed to pause the process in the north.
Shaw said the way the process had been managed in the north had concerned landowners.
"Clearly that process has got people quite anxious and that is understandable," Shaw said.
He and Carter both agreed that a pause would be best.
"I don't want all councils to slow down all work on significant natural areas," said Shaw. "What I want is councils like the Far North District Council who are just starting the process of mapping to pause until we have got the NPS over the line.
"Once the national policy statement is out then you'll see in that all of the ways to do with how we are supposed to treat Māori land."
And once the NPS came into effect, there would be a five-year phase-in period.
Asked about the possibility of compensation, Shaw said that work was also taking place on an implementation plan and complementary measures that would go with the national policy statement.
"That is vital. It is vital for councils to have the support they need to implement it. It is vital for iwi and Māori collectives that own land and for other private landowners."
He would not comment on whether new activities on Māori-owned land which was designated an SNA would required a resource consent or not.
"There are significant components of the NPS which deal with Māori land but I would rather people were able to see the whole thing in the round because I think part of the issue at the moment is precisely this thing of having only a partial view of something."
O'Connor was questioned about SNAs in Parliament and in the primary production select committee today and whether there could be compensation.
"If there's a proven loss of value then discussion needs to occur to ensure some fairness," O'Connor said in his capacity as Rural Communities Minister. "There are no pre-judged outcomes of that."
SNAs are already a designation under the Resource Management Act 1991 but are applied differently by different councils.
Under the proposed national policy statement for indigenous biodiversity, there would be a standard criteria applied across the country for what constituted SNAs by councils, and how they should be protected.
A draft national policy statement for indigenous biodiversity was issued in November 2019 by the Biodiversity Collaborative Group, which included representatives of forestry, farming, NGOs and the Iwi Chairs Forum.
A previous proposed national policy statement on indigenous biodiversity was published for consultation in 2011 under National.