Too much good land lost to lifestyle

Landcare scientist John Dymond says too much high-value agricultural land is being lost to lifestyle blocks.

He’s called for urgent action and national monitoring of rural land fragmentation.

He also wants a national policy statement to prioritise NZ’s best agricultural land for productive uses.

“This is one case where short-term market conditions favour outcomes that are unlikely to be in the nation’s long-term interest,” he said.

In research published recently in the journal of the Royal Society he said in some areas the rate of subdivision of high-class land was very high. Already lifestyle blocks covered 35% of Auckland’s best agricultural land.

There was no reason to expect the demand for rural subdivisions to subside but NZ’s best agricultural land was valuable, limited and a non-renewable resource, he said.

Lifestyle blocks make up 5% of NZ’s non-reserved land and 10% of all high-class land.

Lifestyle block developments had far outstripped loss of land through urbanisation in recent years, he said.

“Fully one-tenth of NZ’s most productive agricultural land has already been converted to lifestyle sections and this has increased rapidly in the last 10 years.” . . .

Real Estate agents love lifestyle blocks because they tend to turn over regularly.

People move out with rosy dreams of a rural lifestyle but soon get sick of the demands the care of their few hectares put on them and the time wasted commuting to work, school, sports and social activities.

Planning rules in some areas aim to retain the rural character by requiring subdivisions to be bigger than the 1000ish or 500ish square metres (quarter and eight of an acre in old money) sections allowed in urban centres.

That tends to turn once productive land into a series of over-grown gardens or pony paddocks.

Three surveys in Western Bay of Plenty between 1996 and 2005 showed up to two-thirds of properties less than 4ha and up to 82% of those less than 1.5ha were not being used for productive purposes.

On only 29% of lots did production increase and these tended to be between three and 8ha in size. . .

Unless the owners have very green figures with a horticultural bent, most lifestyle blocks aren’t nearly as productive as bigger blocks and even if they are they don’t have the economies of scale.

It might be better to allow smaller sections and high density developments on less productive land and keep better land in economic units.

However, when land supply is one of the major factors influencing high prices for houses, the suggestion of restricting the subdivision of productive land on the outskirts of cities wouldn’t be popular.

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9 Responses to Too much good land lost to lifestyle

  1. Andrei says:

    Aha – a Government employee extoling the virtues of central planning, he knows for sure upon which side his bread is buttered

  2. Gravedodger says:

    A sentiment expressed many hundreds of years ago when some fool built a shelter in a forest glade where he and his family scrabbled an existence in the very limited and precious clearing.

  3. JC says:

    If you want to restrict lifestyle blocks.. sack the Environment Planning Group in each regional Council.

    A few months ago I checked the addresses of the two top planners in two large towns, one North Is and one South. One lived with the lake at his backdoor, one alongside farmland and the other two were in the country.

    Anyway.. a couple of thoughts..you need to take care about lumping all lifestylers together. A good many require land as part of their jobs, eg, farriers, agricultural and forestry contractors, machine contractors, farm workers, nurseries, noisy/pongy/unsightly/vibrating industries and so on.. as cities expand these people need to sell up and move out on to farmland.

    If our urban areas take up less than 3% of the total land area (which they do) generally on the most productive land, and lifestylers take up 10% of the most productive land,, AND we still feed 4.4 million people and export a good deal then we don’t have a problem for a long time to come.

    (I can’t resist this one) If global temperatures are really heading up 3-4.5 degrees then the Volcanic Plateau becomes a veritable Garden of Eden along with Southland and the alpine tussocklands could grow giant brassicas.

    Finally, productivity is productivity whether its in growing crops or cows or productive human beings. Lifestylers are not cheap so you get plenty of well off entrepeneurs, businessmen and other highly productive buying them.. they may not produce much in the way of crops but that five acres holds them in NZ and we get the benefit of their brains and energy.

    JC

  4. TraceyS says:

    There are lots of inappropriately sited lifestyle blocks as a result of lack of forward planning and out dated policy considerations. That’s how we happen to live on a block which doesn’t comply with planning rules. That means resource consents are required for things that are permitted as of right on a much smaller section in town. Basically nothing you would normally want to do is allowed because the zoning does’t fit the actual land use. Such nonsense.

  5. TraceyS says:

    As a biased lifestyle block owner I agree with you JC. Councils should be planning for small blocks as there really is a needs as you mention. There are plenty of areas which could be re zoned which would take up only low productivity farmland. But the real reason why Councils are against them is because of the costs of infrastructure which has to reach farther distances. It is simply more efficient to house people in Towns and cities. The current planning model is a knee jerk one rather than one which looks ahead to the future needs of people. It should be given a new name.

  6. Andrei says:

    But the real reason why Councils are against them is because of the costs of infrastructure which has to reach farther distances.

    I think you will find Tracey that when you develop land for residential purposes the “costs of infrastructure” are born by the developer and built into the price the eventual purchaser pays for the property – which is how it should be.

    And it will be the “costs of infrastructure” that will ultimately determine whether a planned development is viable or not.

    Of course councils and those in their employ being petty functionaries can be obstructive and kill things for those they dislike or wave their magic wands and smooth the paths for those they feel beholden to often disguising their petty corruptions under various disguises such as “planning models” and so forth which distorts things a little

  7. TraceyS says:

    “… “costs of infrastructure” are born by the developer and built into the price the eventual purchaser pays for the property … “. Not all costs Andrei, only those anticipated at the time and that can be legally required of the developed to pay. Allowing towns to expand with more lifestyle development at their boundaries will eventually lead to the filling in of those areas with increasingly smaller sections and the requisite footpaths, kerbing, sealing, streetlights, sewerage services and so on that were not needed before when there were just lifestyle blocks. These are future infrastructure needs that might not be anticipated or planned for but rather “evolve” over time and can’t be pinned to one developer or another.

    So councils would rather restrict new development of this kind until all options within the town or city boundaries are exhausted. That puts much less future pressure on infrastructure, but does intensify reverse-sensitivity issues as people have fewer options to locate the types of activities you mentioned and are forced, out of need, to locate on inappropriate sites for lack of availability. I think there is value in the planning tool as a way of trying to avoid unnecessary conflict, especially where it can be easily foreseen. Sometimes we all seem to forget the old-fashioned idea that getting on with your neighbour is very, very important to our well-being as a society and either adds to or detracts dramatically from the quality of life. It is unfortunate that we have legislation in NZ which foments a process that pits neighbour against neighbour for the entertainment of all except those whose lives are directly affected by it.

  8. Andrei says:

    Allowing towns to expand with more lifestyle development at their boundaries will eventually lead to the filling in of those areas with increasingly smaller sections and the requisite footpaths, kerbing, sealing, streetlights, sewerage services and so on that were not needed before when there were just lifestyle blocks.

    At which point these new suburbs are now occupied by lots of people who are called “rate payers” and who pay for the infrastructure through levies called “rates” which are increased when they are put onto town water and sewerage as a rule. Sometimes when footpaths and so forth are laid the cost of doing so is divided up among properties who are gaining the new facility outside their gates and the effected redidents get to vote on whether they want to proceed or not

    There is also a surcharge sometimes applied to a properties rates when they first are connected to things like town water, a fee which is paid off over the years to cover the properties share of developing the town water supply and its delivery to that property.

  9. TraceyS says:

    Yes Andrei, but councils are reluctant to place extra costs onto ratepayers in the form rates increases or to have them pay a lump sum percentage of costs in the thousands for new services. To require “… a fee which is paid off over the years to cover the properties share of developing the town water supply and its delivery to that property” is fine but it doesn’t pay the capital cost of the development in the meantime. It is still more efficient to hook properties up to existing services where there is spare capacity. This saves money in the short term, but also asks people to consider changing their living requirements. Some will, I suppose. Sometimes I’d love to have a flat in the city as I spend a bit of time there. But far too happy in my gumboots to give up the small farm lifestyle completely.

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