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New rules to protect Highly Productive Land

With our ever expanding cities and demand for more and more land for urban use, productive lands are coming under increasing pressure to be developed. People often forget however that this is the land that grows our food, supports our dairy and meat industries and provides the primary products that we use in everyday life.

District and regional plans often contain provisions seeking to protect productive soils, in particular prime or elite soils, but the government is now providing national level guidance on this issue. This is via a new National Policy Statement- the proposed National Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land (NPS-HPL).

What are National Policy Statements (NPS)?

Taking a step back, what is an NPS? An NPS is a document written under the Resource Management Act 1991 that has objectives and policies for addressing environmental matters of national significance. The oldest and best known NPS is the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement. More recently NPS have been prepared to address important matters such as freshwater management and urban development and the government has kept these in mind when drafting the National Policy Statement: Highly Productive Land (NPS:HPL) so that they are aligned and work together. NPS must be recognised by local authorities in their regional and district plans, meaning that local outcomes need to align with these national requirements.

What is the purpose of the NPS-HPL?

According to the Ministry for Primary Industries the overall purpose of the proposed NPS-HPL is to:

“improve the way highly-productive land is managed under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) to:

  • recognise the full range of values and benefits associated with its use for primary production

  • maintain its availability for primary production for future generations

  • protect it from inappropriate subdivision, use, and development.”

Managing highly productive soils is an important issue as our survival (including future generations) depends on food grown on the land, and obviously more productive land produces more food. Productive land also provides economic benefits in the form of jobs and export earnings. Primary industries are an important income earner for New Zealand.

Pressures facing highly productive land include the expansion of towns and cities into the countryside. Once land has been converted to urban use, it’s very difficult to return the land use to food production as the land may have been divided into much smaller landholdings, had buildings constructed on it, activities established and be used for other purposes. The value of the land also increases, making it less feasible to use it for rural production. Even where land is still zoned rural, in recent years there has been an increase in demand for lifestyle blocks. If these are close to long-established productive land uses, their presence may lead to complaints about these activities, regarding nuisances such as noise, sprays or dust. These are called reverse sensitivity effects and Council plan-makers seek to avoid these effects.

These are all issues that the Council needs to consider when zoning land and assessing resource consent application in rural areas.

How will it work?

The NPS-HPL will have a flow on effect into Council’s District and Regional Plans. The proposed NPS would require local authorities to identify highly productive land based on a set of defined criteria (soil capability, climate, water availability, size etc) with Land Use Capability Classes 1-3 being the default criteria to determine highly productive land until this process has been undertaken. This will influence how land is zoned i.e. what it can be used for.

There will be tools in the NPS-HPL such as minimum lot sizes for subdivision on highly productive land and requirements to avoid new urban development on highly productive land unless it is demonstrated that the benefits outweigh the costs of irreversible loss of highly productive soils.

The proposed NPS also includes a definition for “sensitive activities”. It is expected that plan-makers will use this definition to manage incompatible activities and it is intended to encourage buffers between residential and primary production land uses. Hopefully this will reduce “reverse sensitivity”.

How does it affect me?

If you own rural land that is considered to contain highly productive soils, this is likely to influence what you can do on your property in the future, especially if you live at the edge of a city. For example, you may not be able to subdivide land. It will affect the issues you need to assess as part of putting your resource consent application together, where you place development and the type of development.

Have your say

The Ministry for Primary Industries and the Ministry for the Environment are currently inviting submissions on the proposed document, and anyone can make a submission. The relevant information can be found here. The closing date for submissions is 10 October 2019.

If you need assistance with making a submission, Planning Plus can provide this service. Planning Plus can also help if you want to know what you can currently do with your farmland, and what resource consents you may need. You can contact us on or 09 427 9966.

Jo Michalakis is a Senior Planner at Planning Plus and has over 14 years of resource management experience. Jo has a wide range of experience, including public and private sectors and has worked at both Auckland Council and Gisborne District Council.

​Her planning work experience includes residential, commercial, infrastructure, natural environment, heritage and community projects throughout the North Island of New Zealand. She has experience in policy development, preparation of assessments of environmental effects and processing resource consents.

Disclaimer As with all our blogs, the information detailed here is general in nature and meant as a preliminary guide only. This should not be substituted for your own investigations or use of your own professional’s. Planning Plus is not liable for any errors or omissions.

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