Houses bad, trees good?

The government has launched a draft National Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land (NPS-HPL) that proposes a nationwide approach to protecting our most productive land.

New policies and standards could protect the most fertile and versatile land as soon as next year.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor and Environment Minister David Parker have put out proposals to value high-quality soils as a resource of national significance.

“The threat to elite soils in this country has been very real,” O’Connor said. 

“We’ve been losing soils for the past 20 years at an alarming rate.

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to visit Pukekohe and see what is happening.

And not only Pukekohe. Urbanisation creep and the development of lifestyle blocks have been encroaching on productive land all over the country.

The Government has released a draft National Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land that proposes a nationwide approach to protecting NZ’s most productive land for future generations . . .

It is intended to target the high-value classes 1 and 2 soils that account for 5% of NZ’s soil profile but almost 85% of high-value crop production.

“One of the greatest challenges facing the world right now is the need to feed a growing population. 

“We have a well-earned reputation for producing some of the best food in the world,” O’Connor 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. 

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

These are exactly the arguments farmers, councils and other advocates for rural communities have been using against the government’s policy that incentivises planting pine plantations on land better suited for cattle, deer and sheep.

We can’t eat trees and once farmland is converted to forestry it is both difficult and expensive to convert it back.

“We appreciate the balance for councils between the need to provide more houses and the need to protect their soils and economic activity,” O’Connor said.

Since April last year the Government has been looking at the best options for the protection of NZ’s high-value soils.

“This is not about spatial planning.

“It doesn’t dictate exactly what will happen.

“But it does place an obligation on councils to ensure there is enough highly productive land available for primary production now and in the future and to protect it from inappropriate subdivision, use and development.”

Councils will have to complete a cost-benefit analysis of using land for growing fruit and vegetables, assessing that against the short-term value of converting it to housing.

The criteria will be consistent nationwide but be flexible enough to allow councils to take into account their local situation and circumstances. 

“The NPS is not absolute protection for all soils. 

“It does consider local growth aspirations and the reality of where urban growth is now but it does force the councils to recognise the value of this soil for its productive capacity not just its subdivision capacity.”

Until now councils have not always had to consider the productive value – decisions have simply been based on market value and the potential for subdivision. . . 

All of that sounds vague enough to drive several tractors through especially if people who have bought land on the edge of urban areas at prices that reflect development potential seek to prevent the loss of value if it has to kept for food production.

The Taxpayers’ Union points out:

The Government’s plans to prohibit housing on ‘productive’ farmland will serve as yet another regulatory tax on housing, and is a shameful breach of Jacinda Ardern’s promise to fix housing supply, says the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.

“Maddeningly, Government is now introducing even more restrictions on housing, ensuring prices will continue to rise, all for the sake of a small gang of potato-growers who want to keep urban farmland prices artificially low. This is a slap in the face for aspiring homeowners, and makes a joke of the Government’s claimed concern over housing affordability.”

“There is no need for the Government to intervene here, because the market already works to allocate land to its most productive use. If the land is more productive as farmland then farmers will outbid housing developers, and vice versa.” . . 

Ending the incentives for forestry on farmland could happen immediately without providing anyone with viable reasons to oppose the move.

It must happen for exactly the same reasons the government wants to protect class 1 and 2 soils – so we can keep growing the quantity and quality of food the country and the worlds needs.

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