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Managing Cultural Heritage Sites

By Anna Bensemann, Senior Planner, Baseline Group | Mar 29, 2022

When preparing a resource consent for any activity on a rural property there are a wide range factors which need to be considered. For the most part an applicant can be guided by the rules in the plan and the notations on the planning maps. One of the more challenging things to put on planning maps are areas of significance to local Maori. The principal reason for this is that if these sites are made publicly available then the public typically wants to visit them, which usually results in a loss in quality of the site.

With Maori having occupied much of our coastlines and flat land areas for a long time, there are many different areas containing evidence of their existence prior to European settlement in New Zealand. This includes Pa sites, urupa/ burial sites, and settlement areas hence, a wide range of artefacts can be found. Maori often travelled between established settlements on a regular basis by both land and sea, resulting in a network of sites around New Zealand that are of cultural importance to iwi today.

Given this tendency for Maori to move around, it is not uncommon for an area to have been occupied by several different iwi groups at different times, particularly if a site was favourable for mahinga kai/food gathering. This means that a number of iwi groups may hold cultural values within the same location.

Cultural heritage sites have been largely mapped, however where some secrecy to specific locations is required protect the area in question, the site may be mapped as a large area, sometimes called a “Silent File Area”. When seeking a resource consent that involves earthworks, the use of water, a discharge to land or water, or the clearance of indigenous vegetation in these areas, consultation with local iwi is likely to be required.

Ideally consultation should occur as soon as you first consider an activity, so that iwi can provide recommendations as to specific locations, or methods of activities which may be more or less appropriate. Be aware that you may be asked to pay a fee for this consultation, as the number of requests on iwi can be extensive and time consuming.

In the South Island we are fortunate that we have a clear picture of where iwi consider they may have concerns, and applicants can easily access contact information for the relevant iwi through local Councils. Planners and council staff have formed good relationships with the correct contact representative with iwi locally to assist with appropriate consultation.

The challenge for Councils, Iwi groups and landowners is to ensure that these important sites are managed so the value of them is not lost, without compromising a landowners ability to continue to use their land. Early consultation with iwi can assist in achieving a suitable outcome and help to manage our Cultural Heritage sites for future generations.