The organically grown grape juice was flowing in the villages of the Waitakere Ranges last night, as residents celebrated a breakthrough in their battle for stronger protection of the ranges and foothills.

After months of debate, Waitakere City Council voted for a powerful ranges heritage bill to be submitted to Parliament.

Mayor Bob Harvey said the West's "pioneering bloody-mindedness" had carried the bill through the council after 70 per cent of people surveyed said they wanted permanent protection for the ranges.

"Like me, councillors believe the only effective way to ensure this magnificent area is kept green and glorious, a legacy to future generations, is legislation," said Mr Harvey, before heading off to Karekare beach for a "victory surf".

"We are delighted, particularly by the overwhelming vote, which will send a signal to Parliament about the depth of support," said Kath Dewar, of the Waitakere Ranges Protection Society.

"Good things take time," said an elated Gary Taylor, who has advocated special legislation for the ranges since the early 1970s.

"The rules that apply to the rest of New Zealand are inadequate to protect an area like this because of the intensive development pressure on it from the largest metropolitan area.

"The Resource Management Act is not good at protecting a whole landscape, like the ranges, and taking a strategic overview."

Mr Taylor, who is chairman of the Environmental Defence Society, said that 30 years ago subdivisions on the eastern slopes were approved at a minimum of 20ha, compared with last month's subdivisions of 0.9ha.

"This bill tries to draw a line in the sand and say we recognise this area contains private land and is a living, working environment and people are entitled to use their land, but we are going to make it difficult for professional subdividers to come in, cut it up, make a killing and move on," he said.

Not all Waitakere councillors backed the bill. Deputy Mayor Carolynne Stone joined Vanessa Neeson and Assid Corban in opposing some of the recommendations.

A foothills resident all her life, Ms Stone was concerned about the bill's impact on the foothills' acres of orchards and farms.

"Maybe if the community knew the intent of the bill I could go with it, but I don't believe they do and I don't believe most of the council do either," she said.

It was unfortunate that the debate had polarised people into camps - "the angel environmentalist and devil developer".

The council received a 1000-signature petition opposed to the bill from the Structure Plan Advocates Network.

"We are going to battle this bill through to the end," said network spokesman John Newick.

He predicted an army of landowners would make submissions to parliamentary select committee hearings.

Auckland Regional Councillor Paul Walbran said he was pleased because the council supported the bill and worked with Waitakere City on its construction.

Labour MP Lynne Pillay will promote the bill through Parliament.

Green Party MP Keith Locke said it would have his party's support.

Rodney District Council votes tomorrow on whether to support the bill.

Wide-ranging bill

* The Waitakere Ranges Protection Bill defines and establishes the Waitakere Ranges National Heritage Area, including 17,200ha of regional park and 8400ha of private land.

* It identifies heritage features and objectives for managing the area and protecting its features.

* It guides consent decisions to be made under the Resource Management Act and district and regional planning documents.