Lois Williams, Local Democracy Reporter
West Coast mayors are calling for a halt to identifying significant natural areas (SNAs) on private land, after suggestions that the process could be paused in the Far North.
An item on TV One news on Friday night cited a leaked e-mail from the office of Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis, indicating that councils which had not already mapped SNAs could hold off until the relevant Government policy was finalised later this year.
As recently as May 31, James Shaw's office told the Greymouth Star in response to a query that there would be no "outs" for councils when it came to identifying SNAs in their districts.
But since then there have been strong protests from Māori landowners in the Far North who had received council letters alerting them to potential SNAs on their land.
The likely need for resource consents to develop land classed as significant enraged many hapu who had protected their land for centuries, and led to plans for a protest hikoi to the council this Friday.
Attempts by the Greymouth Star to contact Environment Minister David Parker and his two associate ministers James Shaw and Phil Twyford for clarification on the leaked e-mail have drawn blanks today.
But Greymouth Mayor Tania Gibson said she had spoken to the Far North Mayor John Carter and was now hopeful that the entire SNA process could be halted.
Mayors from the West Coast, Southland, McKenzie, Hurunui and Tasman had discussed the issue last week and the general unrest it was causing in their districts, Gibson said.
"We want it stopped. It's setting councils up to fail with their ratepayers - people are not happy. It's basically theft of private land, and we're being thrown under the bus - forced to put rates up to implement something people don't want."
In the wake of the Far North protests, West Coast mayors were today drafting a letter to the Government demanding that the SNA process be paused everywhere, not just in Northland, Gibson said.
Far North Mayor Carter said he had approached Davis last week, after the council received large numbers of objections from landowners who had SNAs mapped on their properties.
"Kelvin took our concerns to James Shaw, and we have had a positive response from him to our proposal that we need to find another more positive way of dealing with this - we need more time and some help with resourcing as well."
Shaw had been receptive to the council's concerns, Carter said.
"Whatever approach they decide to take will apply to other areas as well ... it's not just about Māori land; I've talked to other mayors and it's been an issue nationwide."
West Coast councils and iwi are due to address the SNA question this month at a meeting of Te Tai o Poutini Plan committee.
Researchers have completed the desktop study that mapped potential SNAs around the region, and the second more expensive part of the exercise_- ground-truthing or physically inspecting the mapped sites - was to begin this winter.
Plan committee chairman Rex Williams said he knew no more about a possible change of government direction, than anyone else.
"I just heard the news item on Friday night, but haven't heard any more either."
The plan committee would discuss the development at its June meeting, Williams said.
Calls to West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O'Connor asking for more information went unanswered this morning.
But National Party list MP Maureen Pugh said it was an odd coincidence the Government appeared to be backing away from the SNA process in the Far North, following Māori protest, in the same week that Ngai Tahu had filed High Court action over the Government's plan to review stewardship land without involving any West Coasters.