Farmers, growers call for new framework to protect prime growing land

By Karoline Tuckey of RNZ

The agriculture industry is welcoming news that the widely disliked Resource Management Act (RMA) will be scrapped and replaced with three new laws, but is calling on the Government to put in place protections for prime growing land and food security, and to take time to do the job right.

The new laws will cover land use and environmental regulation, strategic planning for future development, and climate change adaptation. Environment Minister David Parker said he expects two of the three new laws to be introduced in Parliament by the end of this year.

Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman said the new laws must consider growers as well as the demand for housing.

Consultation was carried out last year for a proposed national policy statement for highly productive land, that would have provided guidance to those using the RMA, and was to be considered by Cabinet in the first half of this year. Chapman wants to see that come to fruition still.

He said the rate at which prime growing land has been swallowed up has been accelerating exponentially every year, and more protections are needed.

"Only about 5 percent of New Zealand has suitable land to grow high quality fruit and vegetables, and that land is the land we need to protect. So there's 95 percent of New Zealand, if you like, that can be put into housing.

"It's not about a collision of 'there's no land, therefore the land must be houses' - there's enough land for everything, it just has to be balanced appropriately so that you can grow healthy food and you can have affordable houses. It's a win-win if you plan it properly, it's about balancing."

Need for long-term planning

Federated Farmers vice president Karen Williams said there's been a big gap in long-term strategic planning under the RMA, and farmers are hopeful the Strategic Planning Act could address that.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to plan for future food security - to meet both our national needs, and to continue to provide agricultural export earnings, she said.

"That long-term planning is really critical, and I think that's something that's really been lost over the past few decades, is that strategic planning where we identify a need and then we plan ahead for that.

"Sustainable food production is absolutely critical for our future, to have a happy healthy population."

"Sustainable food production is absolutely critical for our future," says Federated Farmers vice president Karen Williams.
"Sustainable food production is absolutely critical for our future," says Federated Farmers vice president Karen Williams. Photo credit: RNZ

Williams said Federated Farmers wants the proposed Climate Change Adaptation Act to work alongside those affected, and support them in making changes.

And she said the farming community doesn't want to see the creation of the three new laws rushed.

"[The RMA] has been a constant source of difficulty for people trying to do things, and those long-term delays and costs have been frustrating.

"Our biggest concern now is the pace of change - it looks like the Natural and Build Environments Act will have an exposure draft to a special select committee by the middle of this year, and then into the House by the end of the year. Given that we're nearly half way through February, and there's a lot of other processes going on in climate change and emissions reductions and fresh water, it does put a lot of pressure on those trying to respond.

"We're certainly very keen to see a comprehensive consultation process that really genuinely takes account of people's concerns, listens, adapts and is a really good framework that'll see us through for the next 30 years or so."