By: Kirstie Wyss, Jesse Aimer
Primary production (including agricultural, pastoral, horticultural and forestry activities) has a long-standing place in New Zealand’s economy, history and culture.  However, there is an increasing tension between ensuring land is available for primary production, while ensuring there is sufficient land for housing and urban development. 

The Government has recently announced a proposal to protect highly productive land and ensure it is maintained for future primary production through the introduction of a proposed National Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land (NPS-HPL).  The proposed NPS-HPL is in response to reports by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ, which identified two key pressures facing productive land on the edge of towns and cities:
  • Expansion of urban areas, and the accompanying loss of productive land; and
  • Change of land-use on the fringes of urban areas, in particular the increase in life-style blocks.
The Government is concerned that there is a lack of clarity on how local authorities should manage highly productive land under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) and that this is resulting in urban expansion over, and fragmentation of, highly productive land, when alternative locations and approaches may be available.  The NPS-HPL proposes that local authorities be required to consider the availability of highly productive land within their region or district for primary production now and for future generations.

What is the purpose of the proposed NPS-HPL?

The aim of the proposed NPS-HPL is to improve the way highly productive land is managed under the RMA to:
  1. Recognise the full range of values and benefits associated with its use for primary production;
  2. Maintain its availability for primary production for future generations; and
  3. Protect it from inappropriate subdivision, use, and development.

How would the proposed NPS-HPL work?
The proposed NPS-HPL is mainly directed at regional policy statements and district plans and will set out considerations and requirements to be included in these planning documents to manage urban development and subdivision on highly productive land.
It would require local authorities to identify highly productive land based on a set of defined criteria (soil capability, climate, water availability and size etc.).  Until this process has been undertaken, land categorised as classes 1-3 in the Land-Use Capability (LUC) system would serve as the default criteria to determine highly productive land.
A key focus of the proposed NPS-HPL is to protect highly productive land from “inappropriate” use and development.  Whether a development is “inappropriate” will depend on the context and the effects of the development on highly productive land.  The proposed NPS-HPL will provide direction on what is “inappropriate”, which would then be further defined and applied in local contexts through regional policy statements and district plans.
Co-ordination with other national directions
The Government has been working to ensure the proposed NPS-HPL aligns with other anticipated national direction tools, such as the proposed National Policy Statement for Urban Development (NPS-UD), and amendments to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and a new National Environmental Standard for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM and NES-FM). 
In relation to the proposed NPS-UD, the Government considers that the identification of highly productive land will support councils in identifying “no-go” areas through their future development strategies, while allowing for new urban areas on highly productive land in appropriate circumstances.
The key interaction between the NPS-HPL and the NPS-FM and any NES-FM is likely to be where land-use controls, such as through the proposed NES-FM or regional rules, are required to meet freshwater management objectives in areas that may also contain highly productive land.  Local authorities will need to balance both freshwater management and highly productive land objectives in deciding what and where activities take place.
Where to from here?
The Government is calling for submissions on the proposed NPS-HPL. Submissions are open now and close at 5pm on 10 October 2019, and can be made on this form.  Public meetings will be held at various points around the country from 14 August to 10 October 2019, with dates and further details about the meetings still to be confirmed.  Further information on the proposed NPS-HPL, including the discussion document, and the consultation process can be found here.

Please feel free to contact our Resource Management and Environmental Team if you would like to discuss the proposed NPS-HPL or would like assistance in preparing a submission.
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