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EDS calls for improved landscape protection in resource management reforms

23 February 2021

EDS calls for improved landscape protection in resource management reforms

In a new report released today, the Environmental Defence Society (EDS) has called for significant strengthening of the landscape management system in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Caring for the Landscapes of Aotearoa New Zealand is the final Synthesis Report from EDS’s 18 month, in-depth investigation into landscape management. EDS has already released case study reports on Te Pātaka o Rākaihautū Banks Peninsula, Te Manahuna Mackenzie Basin, Waitākere Ranges, Hauraki Gulf Islands and Tourism. These reports are not just academic exercises, but are grounded in practical realities, and are designed to influence change.

Co-authored by EDS Policy Director Raewyn Peart, Solicitor Cordelia Woodhouse, Environmental Policy Researcher Dr Deidre Koolen-Bourke, Policy Researcher Shay Schlaepfer and Manaaki Whenua Kairangahau Māori Lara Taylor, the Synthesis Report undertakes an in-depth and wide-ranging investigation into landscapes and their management in Aotearoa New Zealand and overseas. The report was funded by the Department of Conservation and Land Information New Zealand.

“Aotearoa New Zealand’s landscapes are extraordinarily important to this country and its peoples,” said Ms Peart.

“We need our natural and cultural landscapes, whether that be as a connection to our past, as a place to stand – our tūrangawaewae, as a source of spiritual and cultural connection, to inspire artistic endeavours, for recreation, or a place to farm and somewhere to call ‘100% Pure’.

“Yet our fast-growing population, sprawling settlements and intensification of land-use pose serious threats to these values, encroaching as they have on our coasts, indigenous forests, wetlands and tussock grasslands.

“Our research has revealed that many landscapes are still in decline with thousands of indigenous species threatened with extinction, continuing loss of native vegetation and wetlands, pollution of waterways and growing carbon emissions.

“Our case studies highlighted that, where there are intense development pressures, the current statutory management system is not working well to protect our important landscapes.

“We saw this most vividly demonstrated in the Mackenzie Basin where the introduction of irrigation and intensification of agriculture has significantly degraded landscape and biodiversity values despite a regulatory system is intended to protect it.

“One of the key problems has been weak regional and district plans. For example, until recently, agricultural intensification was a permitted activity on most of the Mackenzie Basin dry grassland floor.

“There is also often too much discretion left to council officers, resulting in ‘death by a thousand cuts’ as we saw on Waiheke Island.

“There has been inconsistency between the landscape approach taken in different areas with, for example, 97 per cent of the rural land in the Queenstown Lakes District being identified as an outstanding natural landscape and only 24 per cent on Banks Peninsula.

“A serious issue is the lack of effective oversight when agencies fail to adequately fulfil their statutory functions. For example, the Waitaki District Plan is still failing to give effect to the landscape provisions in the Canterbury regional policy statement and the Resource Management Act (RMA) in order to protect the iconic landscapes of the Mackenzie Basin. This is a clear breach of that council’s legal obligations.

“There is also poor integration between landscape protection under the RMA and other management and policy regimes. In the Mackenzie Basin we saw discretionary consents granted by the Commissioner of Crown Lands authorising major agricultural intensification.

“In the Banks Peninsula case study, we saw the likely impact of the emissions trading scheme and the One Billion Trees programme in incentivising exotic plantation forestry in preference to indigenous regeneration, with its multiple benefits including ecological restoration.

“Finally, rules can be effective at stopping things but cannot generally make things happen, and many landscapes need active management if their values are to be protected and enhanced. Positive restoration initiatives need to be better supported.

“We think Aotearoa New Zealand’s landscapes deserve better.

“Our international review demonstrated that there needs to be a robust regulatory framework at the heart of any landscape management system. But it also needs to be supported by adequate resources and initiatives that involve landowners and the public in sustainable land management and restoration.

“Both here and overseas, bicultural models which include co-governance with Indigenous peoples show promise in moving towards a more holistic approach to landscape management.

“Our report comes at a critical time when the Government is undertaking fundamental reform of the resource management system. We have set out a series of recommendations in our report which are designed to influence those reforms as well as the forthcoming reviews of the emissions trading scheme and the National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry.

“The National Environmental Standard on Production Forestry needs to be amended to ensure that it is not permitting plantation forestry in areas of outstanding or high landscape values such as the Banks Peninsula and the Mackenzie Basin.

“The emissions trading scheme needs to be reconfigured to ensure that it incentivises indigenous vegetation regeneration as opposed to further expansion of exotic plantation forestry.

“The proposed new Strategic Planning Act, under the resource management reforms, should require the identification of ‘landscapes of national importance’ at a regional level and set out measures to protect and restore them. They need to be linked to funding under the proposed implementation agreements.

“The development of a National Policy Statement on Landscape under the proposed Natural and Built Environments Act (which will replace the RMA) should be prioritised. This should establish environmental outcomes, targets and bottom lines for the country’s important landscapes.

“The proposals for fewer, stronger plans, and the inclusion of mana whenua as part of plan-making bodies, should help ensure more robust provisions for natural and cultural landscapes under a revised resource management system.

“In the longer term we would like to see the development of a stronger ‘Heritage Landscape’ model, through partnership with Māori and after broad public consultation, in order to provide enduring protection for the country’s most important landscapes. This could draw from the success of Water Conservation Orders and be modeled on that process.

“Aotearoa New Zealand’s landscapes are in integral part of who we are as a nation. They are the heritage of our children and our future generations. It’s time we took better care of them,” concluded Ms Peart.

The EDS recommendations for strengthening landscape protection in Aotearoa New Zealand include:

Proposed Strategic Planning Act

  1. Require regional spatial strategies to address landscape matters, including identifying ‘landscapes of national importance’ and providing for their protection and restoration.
  2. As proposed, require regional spatial strategies to encompass land, freshwater and the coastal marine area to enable landscapes and seascapes to be managed in an integrated manner.
  3. Ensure the national priorities statement addresses landscape protection including criteria for the identification and protection of ‘landscapes of national significance’.
  4. As proposed, require mana whenua to be included as equal decision-making partners with government entities in the development of regional spatial strategies to enable Māori rights, interests and values associated with specific landscapes and Māori cultural landscapes to be fully reflected in the strategies.
  5. Ensure implementation agreements include funding provision to support mana whenua, land managers and community organisations to protect and restore important landscapes particularly within landscapes of national significance.
  6. Provide a strong statutory connection between regional spatial strategies and plans developed under the Resource Management Act 1991 (and its successor) to ensure important landscapes are mapped and protected through robust policies and rules and the Local Government Act to ensure budgetary provision for landscape management and restoration.
  7. Apply the Strategic Planning Act to the Crown Pastoral Land Act 1998 and Conservation Act 1987 to better align these regimes across landscapes.

Proposed Natural and Built Environments Act

  1. Retain the proposed reference to the protection and enhancement of outstanding natural features and outstanding natural landscapes.
  2. Implement the proposed requirement for mandatory national direction on section 7 outcomes including those relating to landscape protection and enhancement.
  3. Prioritise the development of a national policy statement on Landscape to establish environmental outcomes, targets and bottom lines for the country’s landscapes including outstanding and amenity landscapes. The national policy statement should also set out at what scale landscape should be assessed, the assessment methodology to be used, and the roles of mana whenua and respective councils and their planning documents in providing protection.
  4. Include reference to heritage landscapes and amenity in the new legislation.
  5. Implement the proposal to develop combined plans, including the provision for mana whenua representatives on the planning committee, an independent audit before notification and independent scrutiny of submissions.
  6. Require combined plans to map important landscapes within each region.
  7. Utilise regional policy statements to provide strong direction for the protection of important landscapes in each region and use sub-chapters to detail considerations for specific landscapes.
  8. Provide greater recognition for iwi planning documents in the management of Māori cultural landscapes and support for the co-design of policy and planning provisions to protect their values.
  9. Implement the proposal to establish regional hubs for compliance, monitoring and enforcement and other proposals to strengthen this function.

Other matters

  1. Review the National Environmental Standard on Production Forestry to ensure that it is not permitting plantation forestry in areas of outstanding or high landscape values such as the Banks Peninsula and the Mackenzie Basin.
  2. Review the emissions trading scheme to ensure that it incentivises indigenous vegetation regeneration as opposed to further expansion of exotic plantation forestry.
  3. Establish a dedicated biodiversity enhancement fund to support indigenous forest restoration.
  4. Provide support to strengthen iwi, hapū and community collaborative initiatives focused on landscape restoration.
  5. Proceed with the proposed reforms set out in the Crown Pastoral Land Reform Bill 2020.
  6. Undertake a fundamental review of the concessions system under the Conservation Act 1987.

Longer-term recommendation

  1. Building on the concept of Heritage Landscapes develop a new tool for landscape protection, in partnership with Māori and through wide consultation, to provide enduring protection for Aotearoa New Zealand’s important natural and cultural landscapes.

The Synthesis Report is available here

The Banks Peninsula report is available here

The Hauraki Gulf Islands report is available here

The Waitakere Ranges report is available here

The Mackenzie Basin report is available here

The Tourism report is available here