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Cunliffe: Waitakere Ranges Heritage Bill

Hon David Cunliffe
MP for New Lynn

2 April 2008 Speech Notes

Waitakere Ranges Heritage Bill

Over Easter I camped with my wife and two sons at Karamatura near Huia in the Waitakere Ranges.

We tramped up the Karamatura Valley and explored the dunes and rock pools of Whatipu. And as the sun set over the Ranges on that beautiful weekend I felt that I could almost feel the bush breathing a sigh of relief that their permanent protection was imminent.

The people of Waitakere have been working towards this day for 30 years. It is with deep humility and aroha that we offer our respect to all those who have gone before, as this historic legislation takes its third reading.

This legislation represents the deeply held desire by the vast majority of Aucklanders to enhance the protection of our unique Waitakere ranges.

I acknowledge the key role of the Bill’s sponsor Lynne Pillay, MP for Waitakere, who has worked tirelessly to guide this Bill through local consultation, Select Committee consideration and the House. May I also recognise West Auckland Colleagues; Rt Hon Helen Clark and former Conservation Minister Chris Carter, and Darien Fenton, whose support has also been critical to bringing this Bill forward.

Together we have heard the clarion call for protection of the Ranges from the environmental forces throughout the Auckland region – not just the West.

As a local MP, I have been committed to the protection of the Ranges since my campaign for election as MP for Titirangi in 1999.

Extensive research and consultation with the public and four local authorities shows that around 80% of the Auckland population support stronger protection for the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area.

This Bill carries therefore with it the mandate of the citizens and councillors of Waitakere City Council, Rodney District Council, and Auckland Regional Council.

It responds to a clear and consistent local voice that the permanence of legislation is necessary to address their concerns. It is a united voice to Parliament from Auckland’s local and regional government.

The Central Issue

This Bill seeks to resolve the central issue of ‘cumulative effects’ of subdivision and development and to provide long-term certainty to this iconic area.

What makes the Waitakere Ranges unique is not just its combination of biodiversity and geography, interlinked with the Manukau Harbour and West Coast environments, but its proximity to a major and rapidly growing urban area.

As a result of Auckland’s growth, there will always be extreme commercial pressure to subdivide and develop land around the city fringe. This reduces population density and can make infrastructure services more difficult to provide.

Crucially, it also means that there will always be money to be made in clearing the next patch of bush, or subdividing the next farmlet, or increasing the extent of ‘bush living’.

There is a legitimate, sound and deeply held public interest in addressing and arresting this long-term trend.

Dealing with it on an individual consent basis without appropriate guidance at a framework level cannot solve the problem, and indeed risks an unfair burden being placed, arbitrarily, on individual consents.

The Bill is a solution to a complex conflict between the short-term and legitimate demands of property owners, and the long-term call by residents to protect an iconic landscape.

This Bill allows people to live in the area, but balances the character of their townships with the needs of people to grow and expand. And for reasonable economic activities such as the well-established film industry to continue without damaging its essential character. It is a fair response to a growing problem.

The demands by the Auckland metropolis for more land for subdivision will be unrelenting and will grow stronger. If the existing situation is left unchecked, we will see the character of the ranges slowly disappear. As the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment said, without protection the Ranges would die a "death by a thousand cuts".

Issue History
There is a long history to this issue. Waitakere leaders and locals have been seeking greater certainty for decades. In 1995 the then conservative Waitakere City Council’s proposed District Plan was put forward.

A number of appeals were entered in the environment court against that proposed District Plan.

In 1998 the election of a new Council saw a reinterpretation of the proposed District Plan. The post 1998 Council sought to move away from the precautionary approach to subdivision set out in the Auckland Regional Council’s Regional Policy Statement to a more permissive regime.

The newly formed Environmental and Planning Committee resolved that the four hectare lot limitation was not “sacrosanct”, and also commissioned the Little Muddy Creek study in the area around Laingholm and Titirangi, to scrap subdivision limits entirely and move instead to a menu of effects based tests, would weaken protection levels. Although the proposed study was not implemented, it underlined the need for permanent, certain protection.

Bill Contents
This Bill therefore recognises the national, regional and local importance of the Waitakere Ranges and foothills area, and promotes the protection and enhancement of its heritage features for present and future generations.

As was formally stated by the former Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment it prevents a “Death by a thousand cuts” or, in technical terms, “incremental effects”.

In other words, it provides certainty and stability to the benefit of all – including local landowners.

To assist the development of this legislation I travelled to the UK as a British guest of Government fellowship to study their national park system. The Bill finally, allows us to achieve what has kept the British moorlands pristine for centuries – adequate protection that provides for human habitisation and public access within its boundaries.

The result for local landowners is undeniably an increase in the amenity and financial value of their land. In Britain a house inside a park boundary is easily 30 times above a similar property outside.

Importantly, the Bill fits within the RMA procedures and structures and does not violate RMA processes. The Bill ensures existing private property rights are consistent with the RMA. This has been a sensitive issue and the Select Committee deserves significant recognition the way it has been addressed this in the Bill we see today. I also wish to recognise the work of the Hon David Benson-Pope then Minister of the Environment.

The Select Committee Report also recommended changes to the clause on Local Area Plans (LAPs). The Select Committee considered proposals to ensure legitimate infrastructure changes could take place within the areas covered by the Bill by:
- ensuring environmental safeguards are in place
- recommends that full and appropriate consultation should take place, consistent with the LGA 2002.

The interaction between this Bill and the local government legislation has been made more specific. This Bill requires local authorities to comply with requirements of section 77(1) regarding a decision that relates to the heritage area to also have regard to the purpose and objectives of the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Bill in its decision-making process. I wish to acknowledge the Minister of Local Government, Hon Mahuta and her officials for their contribution to this aspect of the Bill.

The Regional Council will be required to prepare, adopt and maintain a plan for the integrated management of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. The Select Committee has recommended that this be reviewed every 10 years.

Preservation of existing rights
A concern of opponents to the Bill was that it would infringe existing rights of property owners. The Bill does not limit or affect any title or right to ownership of any land or natural resource within the Heritage Area. All existing property rights remain. The District Plan and Long Term Council Community Plan remain intact.

Normal RMA consenting processes will remain in place. However they must now be used recognising the appropriate long term objectives for land within the Heritage Area.

Paula Bennett wants to have her cake and eat it too. She says she wants to protect the Ranges but at the same time wants to lay waste to them by allowing people to chip away at the land piece by piece. She is ignoring the wishes of the majority of the Auckland population.

Extensive consultation took place on the Bill. And as a result of this consultation and arguments mounted by its opponents, I believe the Bill is now widely representative of the region. I call on opponents to the legislation to reconsider their positions in light of the Select Committee Report.

Recognition
I want to recognise the Kaitiaki of the Ranges – Te Kawerau a Mahi and Ngati Whatua, whose support for this Bill is a foundation of its passage.

The idea of such legislation came from the founding members of the Waitakere Ranges Protection Society: Rt Hon Jonathan Hunt, Justice Randerson, Gary Taylor, and John Edgar have all played key roles during this time.

I particularly want to recognise the Leadership of Waitakere City Mayor Bob Harvey, Deputy Mayor, Penny Hulse; councillors Greg Presland and Denise Yates and councillors Judy Lawley and others who have steadfastly supported this Bill. I want to recognise councillors Sandra Covey and Paul Walbran of the ARC and councillor Christine Rose, now of ARC but then of Rodney District Council.

To Jack Colmar and John Edgar, Bruce and Trixie Harvey and Kath Dewar and colleagues at the Waitakere Ranges Protection Society; to Dr Peter Maddison and Ken Catt of the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society; to Tim O’Shea of Henderson Valley Ratepayers Assn; and Ian Henderson and his wife June, and Sue Hagen, of Titirangi Ratepayers; Hinne Hettema and Wayne McKenzie of the Laingholm District Citizens Association – all of these champions have given their best to ensure the long term future of these precious Ranges.

I wish to thank the parties supporting the Bill – all of our Labour colleagues and Hon Anderton’s Progressives, the Greens, the Maori Party and Taito Phillip Field.

I also want to recognise the officials of the sponsoring councils, and especially Graeme Campbell who has brilliantly coordinated the support in Waitakere.

Dr Seuss created a famous character “ The Lorax” – the spirit of the “truffula trees”. There is a bit of the Lorax in all of these, and I salute you.

Conclusion
This is a moderate Bill that employs the processes of the Resource Management Act. It requires any future change to a district plan to be undertaken in harmony with the objectives and purposes of this legislation.

Nobody will lose any rights to have a consent considered. Nobody will lose a single extant property right. Not a single subdivision currently approved will be voided. But we will overcome the problem of incremental effects.

This is a Bill that provides an historic opportunity to put in place a Waitakere Heritage Area that will provide certainty for planning purposes, preserve lifestyles for residents, and protect the integrity of the landscape and ecosystem.

I feel safe in the knowledge that the passage of this Bill means that long after I retire from politics I will be able to fish and tramp in the Ranges. I will also know that all of the effort that has gone into this Bill was not wasted.


ENDS

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