The government has taken a step towards protecting the country's most productive land from urban development.
The National Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land (NPS-HPL) released today is aimed at ensuring such land can be used for growing vegetables, fruit and other produce.
Councils will now need to identify, map and manage productive land to protect it from inappropriate use and development.
However, they can still make it available for urban housing if there is no alternative, or if certain tests are met.
Agriculture and Trade Minister Damien O'Connor said highly productive land provided food for New Zealanders, significant economic and employment benefits to communities and underpins the value of the country's primary sector.
"Today's changes enhance protection for our highly productive land giving farmers, growers, and other food producers certainty into the future, and provide greater economic security for all New Zealanders.
"Over the last 20 years, about 35,000 hectares of our highly productive land has been carved up for urban or rural residential development, while 170,000 hectares of this land has been converted to lifestyle blocks.
"Once land is built on, it can no longer be used to grow food and fibre. That's why we are moving to protect our most fertile and versatile land, especially in our main food production areas like Auckland, Waikato, Hawke's Bay, Horowhenua and Canterbury."
Associate Agriculture Minister Meka Whaitiri said the government worked closely with local authorities, industry, growers, and Māori organisations to develop a policy that was workable and fit-for-purpose.
The NPS-HPL would complement the National Policy Statement on Urban Development, which would reduce the demand for outward urban growth on highly productive land, the government said.
Environment Minister David Parker said councils, in limited circumstances, would still be able to rezone highly-productive land for urban housing - if less productive land was not available, or if certain tests could be met.
"However, the NPS-HPL will introduce strong restrictions on the use of highly productive land for new rural lifestyle developments."
The NPS-HPL will be transitioned into the two Acts replacing the Resource Management Act - the Spatial Planning Act (SPA) and the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA).
Bioprotection Aotearoa director Professor Amanda Black said in comments provided by the Science Media Centre that she was concerned at how long it would take to put the statement into effect.
"The protection of highly productive land has been a concern for food producers and scientists for more than two decades. The release of a NPS on highly productive land at least is an acknowledgement of the national importance that this issue has and the impact that continued loss has for our own food security, the wider Pacific food security and, of course, income from export.
"My concern is that it will take at least 3.5 years to really implement and it relies heavily on coordination between authorities. While it comes into effect on the 17th October 2022, any land already marked for subdivision will still go ahead.
"There are also a number of exceptions to protecting highly productive land that begs the questions: will the NPS be able to adequately protect our future food supply? And is this it too little too late?"