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Highly Productive Soils – Big Picture Thinking vs Private Landowners Needs

By Anna Bensemann, Senior Planner, Baseline Group | Nov 15, 2022

The expansion of our towns and cities, and our ever growing obsession with rural lifestyle blocks has been threatening the viability of our productive soils for many decades. The Resource Management Act includes some tools for protecting this land from development, but these tools are often given lip service in light of the pressures to develop, leading to the slow and steady degradation of our key versatile soils.

On the other hand, individual landowners invest time and money into their land, sometimes across multiple generations. With variable economic times, some landowners need the ability to subdivide and sell to the market land that is marginal or no longer required. Such ability facilitates innovation and technological advancement on the balance of many properties, or simply enables a happy retirement.

This balance is being tested by the now operative National Policy Statement (NPS) relating to Class 1, 2 and 3 land and possibly other productive rural land. The proposal includes regulations as to the expansion of urban activities onto this land, and the subdivision or further fragmentation of land that is considered to be highly productive.

The implications of this are that private land containing highly valuable soils, which make up 14% of New Zealand, will have an additional matter that will need to be considered at the time of any subdivision or development. As seen with the NPS on freshwater, these documents carry a significant amount of weight and should not be taken lightly. The NPS on freshwater has seen regional Councils limiting how much water is available for irrigation and making the resource consent process more complicated with layers of additional reporting and investigations into the effects of water takes and discharges on water bodies.

The NPS for highly productive soils appears on the face of it to be ensuring we have a farming industry secured into the future, but like any government lead policy, the devil is in the detail. And the real issues will arise when the policy is implemented by local government on a case by case basis. Policies that are written for the big picture often overlook the site specific unique features or anomalies that mean private landowners should be able to further develop their Class 1, 2 or 3 lands.

With the new provisions now in effect, the question will be how much more expense will this generate to demonstrate the highly productive value of land, or whether these values will not be lost through the development process.

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