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I am calling on Hutt City Councillors to fundamentally re-think the SNA (Significant Natural Area) process at their District Plan meeting tomorrow night.

“Councillors need to take a deep breath, pause, and go back to the drawing board on how Significant Natural Areas will be protected in the Hutt. The current process has set the Council against residents, caused enormous stress and anxiety for landowners, and will undermine not enhance good conservation outcomes. A much more preferable approach would be a voluntary process that respects landowners’ property rights and actually engages residents in the worthwhile and worthy goals of protecting areas of biodiversity.”

“Tomorrow night a large crowd of landowners will speak at the Council meeting about their lack of confidence in the process so far and the proposed next steps. Councillors need to listen to them, not their advisors, and fundamentally re-think how they go about protecting SNAs.”

“The suggestion in the Councillors papers that “initial Consultation has been undertaken with affected land owners” is a risible joke. The papers prosaically note that “initial consultation advised landowners of the draft identified areas and values and invited feedback on the areas and on possible District Plan provisions and non-regulatory support measures.” In plain English, what actually happened was that around 1500 letters were sent, out of the blue, to residents all around the Hutt telling them parts of their land (often quite sizeable sections) had been identified as containing a “Significant Natural Area”.

“Landowners then discovered that restrictions that could potentially be imposed on this land are quite significant - including stopping not only sub-division, vegetation clearance, earthworks, but also possibly vege gardens, playhouses or BBQ patios a few metres from residents’ homes. Various meetings with both Councillors and Council officials have inflamed the situation rather than helped things, with confusing commitments made and advice given.”

“Nobody doubts that the Council has legal obligations under the RMA to protect significant areas of biodiversity. What is in dispute is the way the Council is going about giving effect to those obligations.

“The Council’s approach will undermine good conservation outcomes. Council should be working with not against landowners. Private landowners already do a huge amount to protect our biodiversity. But the council’s heavy-handed approach has set the community against them and will have the opposite effect of what is intended – a total own goal.”

“Other Councils have undertaken to protect significant natural areas by engaging in good faith with affected landowners, working in conjunction with them, and adopting a voluntary approach.”

“That’s what the Council should do now.”

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