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Protection of highly productive land- new requirements for development

2022 is definitely the year for changes in the planning world! We’ve seen the suite of intensification plan changes notified, MDRS, resource management reform and now the introduction of the National Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land. Unlike some of these changes however, the National Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land (NPS- HPL) has been on the cards for a while now and isn’t a surprise. What does this mean for development though?


What are National Policy Statements (NPS)?


Taking a step back, what is a National Policy Statement (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. 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 “highly productive land”?


“Highly productive land” is the most fertile, versatile and productive land which has the fewest limitations. This makes it best suited to food and fibre production. It comprises approximately 15% of New Zealand’s land.


What’s the purpose of the National Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land?

The main purpose of the NPS- HPL is to protect highly productive land from inappropriate subdivision, use and development. The intention is that these land areas (in particular the soil) should be available for primary production, including growing fruit and vegetables. The NPS- HPL seeks to direct new housing developments (including rural- lifestyle developments) and other land use activities that do not use the high-quality soils, away from highly productive land.


This purpose of the NPS- HPL related to the historic loss of valuable productive land to development. Over the last 20 years, approximately 35,000 hectares of highly productive land has been developed for urban or rural residential development, with the greatest loss of highly productive land being in Auckland and Christchurch[i]. Lifestyle blocks under 8 hectares occupy more than 170,000 hectares of highly productive land. This land is often not used for any productive purpose.



What’s in the NPS- HPL?


The NPS- HPL contains objectives, policies and details for its implementation. The NPS-HPL will utilise the Land Use Capability (LUC) system, which places land into eight classes (Classes 1- 8). Land that is classed as LUC 1 is the most versatile and productive and is the best suited to primary production. This is the most valuable land. At the opposite end of the scale, LUC 8 is the least versatile and productive and has the greatest number of limitations. Councils will be required to identify and map highly productive land. Land zoned General Rural or Rural Production and in LUC Classes 1, 2 and 3 will be protected by the NPS-HPL and be classed as highly productive land. In addition, there are provisions in the NPS- HPL for other Classes to be protected in specific circumstances.


Until the Council has mapped the highly productive land in their region, a transitional definition of highly productive land will apply. This definition is based on Land Use Capability Class 1–3 land that is zoned General Rural or Rural Production, but there are some exclusions.


In Auckland, the Auckland Unitary Plan already seeks to protect elite and prime soils (being Class 1, 2 or 3 in the Land Use Capability (LUC) system) through its objectives, policies and rules. Resource consent applications in areas where prime or elite soils are located are already assessed, but the new NPS- HPL will give more force to protection of these land areas, and the Unitary Plan provisions will change to become more stringent.

The NPS- HPL will make it more difficult for highly productive land to be rezoned for urban or rural lifestyle development. It will make land use not based on the soil resource of the land (including primary production activities that do not use the soil) more difficult to establish and obtain resource consent for. The NPS- HPL will also make general subdivision of highly productive land more difficult to obtain resource consent for. You should discuss the implications of the NPS- HPL with your planner.

What’s the timing?


The NPS-HPL will come into effect on 17 October 2022. This means:


  • The implementation provisions of the NPS- HPL come into effect. The NPS-HPL requires that regional councils (including Auckland Council) must notify a proposed regional policy statement (RPS) which maps the highly productive land in the region as soon as reasonably practicable and within three years of the NPS-HPL coming into effect (October 2025). Territorial authorities must notify changes to their district plan objectives, policies and rules to give effect to the NPS-HPL as soon as practicable and within two years of the highly productive land maps in the relevant RPS becoming operative.


  • The NPS- HPL will become a relevant National Policy Statement to be assessed, in relation to decisions on resource consent applications. This includes provisions of the NPS- HPL which refer to avoiding subdivision of highly productive land and that highly productive land should be protected for land-based primary production.


How does it all fit together?


Councils have a tough job ahead on many fronts. With all the central government required plan changes, resource management reform and new National Policy Statements, it’s hard to see in some cases how Council’s will have enough resources to run all of these processes well. The content of all these required changes may also be hard to reconcile in some areas- the requirement on Councils to provide more housing and the servicing that this required, meet bottom lines and outcomes that will be centre of the new Natural & Built Environment Act, and to protect highly productive land. It may all be a bit optimistic in some cases, and a bumpy road ahead as Council’s try to implement all these different requirements.


How does it affect your project?


The Planning Plus team have many years of experience working in rural environments, including land use and subdivision. If you’re concerned about how the changes affect your development proposals or want to know more, get in contact. You can contact us on hello@planningplus.co.nz or (09) 427 9966.


Hannah Thomson is Director of Planning Plus™ and has over 20 years of resource management experience working in both local government and the private sector. This includes five years at Rodney District Council in roles including Senior Planner and Team Leader. Hannah has a wide range of experience including commercial, rural, residential and coastal development and subdivision on small to large scales and appearances at both Council and Environment Court as an expert witness for mediation and hearings. Hannah has assisted Councils with policy development and has also assisted private individuals with submissions to Council.

Hannah holds the qualifications of BSc (Environmental Science) and Master of Applied Science (Environmental Management), is a Member (Int) of the New Zealand Planning Institute and Secretary of the New Zealand Planning Institute Auckland Branch Committee. Hannah is also a member of the Resource Management Law Association.



Disclaimer

Please remember that the advice in this blog is general in nature and based on information and advice available at the time of writing. Review and interpretation of the plan changes, and how they will be administered, is evolving. We recommend you get your own planning advice for your own development. As with all our blogs this information is preliminary in nature only and we have used our best endeavours to ensure it is correct at the time of writing. It is not intended to substitute for your own investigations or obtaining specific advice on your proposal from professionals. Planning Plus LtdTM is not liable in any way for any errors or omissions.

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