19 Sep 2022

Protecting fertile land: Food growers celebrate as lifestyle blocks face limitations

11:28 am on 19 September 2022
Lettuce crops being grown in market gardens in Pukekohe.

Councils will now have to map and manage areas with fertile soil, protecting the land from being developed for housing. Photo: RNZ/ Brad White

Vegetable and fruit growers are calling the new policy to protect fertile land a "triumph" but say it has been a longtime coming.

Councils will now have to map and manage areas with fertile soil, protecting the land from being developed for housing.

An Auckland produce grower said the new policy should have been implemented long ago.

In Pukekohe, Jivan Produce owner Bharat Jivan said housing intensification had sped up in the past 15 years.

He said growers were running out of space to grow crops.

"On the hill, it's quite unique for growing early season potatoes. Eventually, if we don't protect that soil, we'll run out of land to grow new season vegetables through the winter months."

Similarly, in Hawke's Bay, Yummy Apples general manager Paul Paynter, said the region had some of the most productive soil in the world.

"As a result, our yields are absolutely phenomenal, and it'll produce food for thousands of years if we look after it.

"Nobody in Hawke's Bay will ever starve because there's lots of food on their doorstep."

About 3400 hectares in Hastings alone had been covered in concrete over the past 80 years, he told Morning Report.

"Once it's gone, it's gone."

He said the new policy statement could be a little confusing, "but the principles they've put in place are very sensible and they're functional, deliver good outcomes".

But land can still be rezoned for housing under some circumstances.

Environment Minister David Parker told Morning Report most councils were in favour of the new policy statement.

Councils faced pressure from property owners on fertile soil wanting to subdivide, and many were receptive of the regulations, he said.

Labour MP David Parker

Environment Minister David Parker. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

He said owners of lifestyle blocks wanting to subdivide may be allowed to do so, but their options would be limited.

"Most of the land has been lost to lifestyle blocks; 170,000 hectares in the last 20 years or so, 35,000 hectares to more intensive development.

"Now, the circumstances for lifestyle blocks will be very limited, but in respective areas that are completely surrounded by fertile soils, if they've got nowhere else to go, they do sometimes need to subdivide.

"The first preference is to use soils that are less high quality, and most areas have those around them and then also cities naturally intensify if you let them."

Councils have three years to identify the fertile land in their districts, but some have already completed the process.

"Councils really want this. They find it hard to stand up to the pressure of private plan changes that are trying to chop up some of the soil.

"Some people say it's their property right of a rural property to subdivide the land and turn it into residential. That's not correct any more than it is correct for someone who owns a house in the city to be able to put up a factory."

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