Government announces plan to protect food-producing land

The Government has unveiled plans to protect prime food-growing land, amid growing concern about the impact of urban sprawl.

The issue is especially bad in the vegetable growing area of Pukekohe, near Auckland where housing developments have been encroaching on fertile land.

That's prompted a warning that Auckland could end up relying on vegetables imported from overseas if the city's urban sprawl continues.

Under a new proposal, released by Environment Minister David Parker and Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor, the country's most fertile and versatile land would be given new protection.

The draft National Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land (NPS-HPL) proposes a nationwide approach to protect productive land.

David Parker said productive land was under increasing pressure from expanding urban areas.
David Parker said productive land was under increasing pressure from expanding urban areas. Photo credit: Newshub

David Parker said it would see councils be required to ensure there's enough highly productive land available for primary production now and in the future, and protect it from inappropriate subdivision, use and development

"Councils would need to do a full analysis of alternatives, benefits and costs when considering whether urban expansion should be located on highly productive land used for growing food and vegetables and for other primary production," he said.

About 14 percent of New Zealand's land is categorised as highly productive.

"It's under increasing pressure from expanding urban areas and the growing number of lifestyle blocks," said Parker.

"The National Policy Statement introduces a clear and consistent policy that councils must follow when making decisions on land use."

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said New Zealand could not afford to lose its most highly productive land.

"It brings significant economic benefits including employment for nearby communities, and adds significant value to New Zealand's primary sector," he said.

"Continuing to grow food in the volumes and quality we have come to expect depends on the availability of land and the quality of the soil," said O'Connor.

"Once productive land is built on, we can't use it for food production, which is why we need to act now."

Meanwhile the proposal has been welcomed by Horticulture New Zealand who said it would help ensure that New Zealand can grow its own vegetables and fruit.

Natural Resources and Environment Manager, Michelle Sands said the policy statement recognises that New Zealand needs its best soils for domestic food production.

There's been ongoing concern about the impact of urban sprawl.
There's been ongoing concern about the impact of urban sprawl. Photo credit: Getty

"Once you build houses on our best soils, you cannot get them back. However, with good planning and buffer zones, houses and horticulture can co-exist, which is important for three main reasons," she said.

"One, so growers can make best use of available land. Two, so growers can quickly get fresh produce to market and three, so growers have access to workers, given how labour intensive horticulture is," said Sands.

Public consultation on the proposal is open for two months.