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New Indigenous Biodiversity Legislation Mandates Significant Natural Area Identification

By Anna Bensemann, Senior Planner, Baseline Group Marlborough | Jul 27, 2023

The National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity (NPS – IB) will have an impact on landowners' ability to clear native vegetation on private land starting from 4 August 2023. The primary objective of the NPS – IB is to ensure no net loss of indigenous biodiversity across Aotearoa New Zealand. It encompasses provisions that district and regional councils must adhere to in order to implement changes to their planning regulations.

One crucial aspect of the NPS – IB is the requirement for district councils to identify Significant Natural Areas (SNA) within their respective districts. If a landowner disputes the designation of an SNA, the Council must conduct an onsite assessment to verify the extent of the area in question.

Designating land within an SNA will trigger specific rules and policy guidelines regarding the scale and nature of clearance permitted, all aimed at achieving the overarching goal of the NPS – IB. These rules will come into play during earthworks, subdivision, or land clearance activities within identified areas. If these activities exceed the permitted standards, landowners will need to obtain resource consents. Such rules are designed to prevent clearance that would diminish critical areas, fragment important biodiversity zones, or compromise buffers around SNA areas, thus safeguarding the quality and quantity of the remaining SNAs.

The NPS – IB also extends to indigenous biodiversity outside of identified SNA's, requiring all decisions to follow an "effects hierarchy." This means prioritizing avoidance of adverse effects, followed by minimizing and remedying any unavoidable impacts. If these objectives cannot be reasonably met, biodiversity offsetting or compensation measures will be provided.

While the NPS – IB sets a fairly strict line, there are exceptions to accommodate specific situations. These include provisions for constructing single new dwellings on landholdings without existing dwellings and permitting mineral extraction (excluding coal) that offers significant national public benefit, as well as aggregate extraction with similar public benefits. The operation or expansion of existing coal mines is also exempted under certain conditions.

The NPS – IB also addresses situations where maintaining improved pasture for farming might affect an SNA. In such cases, councils must permit the continuation of improved pasture maintenance, provided there is evidence that it is part of a regular, periodic cycle. However, any intensification, scale increase, or character change of such activities beyond previous levels is not allowed.

The impact of the NPS – IB on district plans will vary. While some councils may not need significant changes due to existing provisions aligning with the NPS – IB, others may need to revise their planning regulations, potentially affecting farming practices near native bush areas.

For landowners, it is crucial to stay informed about any plan changes introducing SNAs, as they will impose some level of restriction. Being aware of these changes will help them understand any additional limitations that may apply to their farmland.

By implementing the NPS – IB, New Zealand takes a significant step towards preserving its indigenous biodiversity for future generations. The journey may present challenges, but the long- term benefits for the environment and society make it a crucial and worthy endeavour.

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