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Historic Heritage Challenges for Landowners

By Anna Bensemann, Senior Planner, Baseline Group | Aug 28, 2023

Having a slice of New Zealand's history is a unique experience. The stories of how the land was used, who owned it, and all the trades and sales that happened are pretty fascinating. But dealing with this history and making any changes to the land can be a bit tricky, especially if you're thinking about making alterations.

This history could be about a building that's considered special and listed in the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Register or mentioned in the district plan. Or it could be places where old stuff from before 1900 is still in the ground, or places with meaning in Māori stories. These are places where you might find old things.

Landowners have to follow rules from both the Resource Management Act (RMA) and the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act (2014). This is for sites that are known to have history and also for those that might have history but we're not completely sure. District Councils are in charge of looking after historical places under the RMA. If it's about buildings, they have rules to follow about what changes you can make and even when you can knock them down. These rules are meant to keep the old things and the area around them safe. If you want to knock down an old building, you usually need to show there's no other way, and sometimes a lot of people need to know about it.

Dealing with places that might have old stuff from before 1900 or places with special history is more complicated. We have rules in the district plan and the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga register for these places. The register keeps changing because we keep finding new things. The rules in the district plan are usually about digging and cutting down plants, which could disturb the ground. When this might happen, you need to talk to local Māori groups. They might want someone to watch over the work to make sure we find anything old properly. If we find human remains, everything stops immediately.

Usually, if you're going to dig or build something, you have rules to follow in case you find old stuff. These rules say what to do if you find anything unexpected while working.

For people who aren't really into history, it might seem a bit annoying to follow these rules about old things. But imagine if something really old got destroyed forever. The punishment for not following these rules can be pretty big fines and a good deal of stress. That's why it's important to figure out if your land has old stuff and to plan very carefully before you start digging.

Understanding these rules can make sure that the history of your land is protected and respected. So, if you're considering any changes to your property, take a moment to think about the stories it holds and the legacy you can preserve. Your land might just have more secrets to tell than you know.

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