Providing clarity on SNAs

Published on 22 July 2021

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Last month, I asked staff to pause mapping of Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) in the district in response to a very clear message from mana whenua and landowners who opposed this process. It was the right decision to make, but it left the Council in a regulatory limbo. 

If you have been following this issue, you will know that the Council was undertaking this work as part of our review of the District Plan. We are required by the Resource Management Act, the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010, and the Regional Policy Statement for Northland 2016 to protect natural habitats in the District Plan. Identifying SNAs is how we and all other councils in New Zealand were to meet that obligation.  However, the Far North has a unique set of conditions that make this requirement widely unpopular. As much as 42 per cent of our district includes habitats of high ecological value.  We also have a much higher proportion of Māori-owned land than elsewhere in the country. These factors make the cultural and economic impacts of SNAs potentially far greater in the Far North.

That is why I and other elected members went to Wellington to discuss the issue directly with Associate Environment Minister James Shaw. It was important that he clearly understood the concerns of our landowners. I am grateful that both Minister Shaw and Local Government Minister, Nanaia Mahuta, supported a pause on SNAs until the National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity (NPS-IB) is implemented. That is now due by the end of the year.

While the Government has signalled support for a pause on SNAs, we must continue the very important task of reviewing our District Plan. Our goal is to publicly notify the proposed Plan later this year, so we can then gather your feedback. On Tuesday, our Strategy and Policy Committee considered how to make that happen. They debated this issue at length and the concerns of the community were front and centre of their thinking during this discussion.  I believe they have opted for a way forward that meets our legal obligations, recognises the legitimate concerns of landowners and provides us with the best opportunity to progress the Proposed District Plan. 

They decided to continue developing the District Plan but remove SNA maps from the document.  They also voted to revisit the issue at the next committee meeting when we have completed our conversations with Government ministers and have a clear idea about the way forward.  While I was unable to attend the committee meeting myself, I know there was vigorous debate about SNAs. That included making a stand and refusing to apply the Government’s current requirements. What was never seriously considered was an option to continue with the SNA mapping process. We have heard your views about SNAs loud and clear, and the committee’s decision reflects that.

What we will do now is continue our vital work updating the District Plan so that we can present a proposed Plan to you for feedback later this year. Our aim now is to complete this process so that we can provide greater certainty to residents, businesses and landowners on planning rules.