What next for SNAs?
Published on 17 June 2021
Last Friday, an estimated 2000 people joined a hīkoi to Council headquarters in Kaikohe to deliver a very clear and emphatic objection to land being designated as Significant Natural Areas (SNAs). This protest was the largest seen in the Far North for many years and demonstrated the passion landowners feel. I want to thank the organisers and all those involved for ensuring the protest was peaceful.
I have been criticised for not welcoming the hīkoi in person. It was not an easy decision, but I believe it was important to take your concerns directly to Associate Environment Minister James Shaw in Wellington. I was confident my fellow councillors, the CEO Shaun Clarke and senior staff members could represent the Council and receive the petition from organisers on my behalf.
As it turned out, I had a positive meeting with the Minister, and can I assure you that the Government is now well-aware of the unique issues facing our district. To further underline their understanding, I have invited Minister Shaw and officials to visit the Far North so they can see first-hand why SNAs have sparked such concern. Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis and Northland MP Willow-Jean Prime have been invaluable, and I thank them for their help. I also want to acknowledge the perspectives shared with officials by two staunch Far North advocates, Dover Samuels and Shane Jones.
So, what makes our district unique? The Far North covers 682,200 hectares and 42% of that land has been assessed as having high ecological value. Fifty-eight per cent is in private ownership, while 42% is publicly owned. This is mostly Department of Conservation land, but some is reserve held by the District Council. What makes our district truly unique is that 17% of the district’s land is Māori-owned. That is the highest percentage in the country and five times more than Gisborne, which has the second highest rate. Of the 115,974 hectares of Māori-owned land in the Far North, approximately 52% has been mapped as a SNA.
I recognise that the mapping process for SNAs has caused anger. It did not adequately acknowledge Māori as kaitiaki of their whenua. Nor did it acknowledge the concerns of the farming community. Minister Shaw understands this, and he supports a pause in the SNA process. Our aim now is to use this time to talk again with landowners and to listen more closely to your concerns.
Ideally, we will talk to all affected landowners to learn more about their land and how we can work together to ensure both your rights and our most precious taonga are protected. That will be a massive undertaking and we will be seeking input from the Government on how we can achieve that with our current resources. In the meantime, I want to assure you that the District Council, Northland Regional Council and the Government have heard you and we will continue to listen to what you have to say on SNAs.