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Call For Better Protection Of Important Landscapes

Media Release
Monday May 17

EDS report calls for better protection of important landscapes

New Zealand's outstanding landscapes are disappearing at an unprecedented rate according to a new Environmental Defence Society (EDS) report.

According to the report a development boom in icon regions has revealed serious flaws in how we manage growth, and says urgent action is needed to save what's left, including changes to the Resource Management Act.

'A Place to Stand: the Protection of New Zealand's Natural and Cultural Landscapes' is the first comprehensive look at the management of New Zealand's natural and cultural landscapes under the Resource Management Act. It explores the loss of New Zealand's special places to inappropriate subdivision and development, with a particular focus on the Waitakere Ranges, Wakatipu Basin, Banks Peninsula, Coromandel Peninsula and the Whangarei coastline.

"We all have an emotional connection to our land, and this report shows that our natural landscapes are under threat," says Gary Taylor, chair of EDS.

"Our landscape is also important for our economy - New Zealand's 'brand' is based on our wonderful natural heritage. Our environment and landscape is crucially important to the agricultural, export and tourism sectors that underpin the economy."

"This report highlights the need for landscape conservation to be moved up the political and policy agenda before the qualities implicit in our brand become lost. We cannot afford to lose our distinctiveness as a country in a crowded international market place."

"We need to address the legislative framework and its failings. We applaud the Government's recent efforts to develop national policy directions and ask that landscape be included in this work."

"The five case studies of places where outstanding and significant landscapes have been lost or are under imminent threat are a wake-up call for all of us. The rural open spaces, unspoiled wildernesses and sublime coastlines that we all cherish are in the process of being degraded by an unprecedented development boom, fuelled by changing lifestyles and facilitated by poor planning and decision-making."

"The situation is far worse than we originally thought," said Raewyn Peart, Senior Policy Analyst for EDS, who undertook the study last year.

"There is poor understanding of what landscapes we should protect and why. There is no national picture, a very uneven regional picture and a confused local picture. This means there's uncertainty for the environment, for businesses and developers, for councils, and for the public."

'The research shows a number of breakdowns in how we identify and protect important landscapes. We have no government policy on what landscapes we should be protecting and for what purpose. Regional councils need to identify regionally significant landscapes and not many are doing that. At the district level, councils need help to deal with these complex landscape issues.'

"We need a lasting consensus on rural development and subdivision which outlives the 'short-termism' of local politics. For example, in the Wakatipu Basin the minimum lot size for rural subdivision as a discretionary activity changed from 20 hectares to 4 hectares, largely as a result of a change in the composition of council. There are few checks and balances and most landscape plan provisions never get to the Environment Court for scrutiny.'

"Effective landscape management is also hindered by the widespread use of planning techniques which fail to adequately address cumulative effects across a wide area, an 'approval culture' which means that most resource consent applications are given the go ahead, and a lack of monitoring of the outcomes for important landscapes so that decision makers have little idea of the impacts of their decisions," says Raewyn Peart.

"EDS hopes this report will stimulate debate and raise the profile of the issue. The Resource Management Act is not delivering for our landscapes and needs changing. A National Policy Statement would help. Other action is also canvassed in the report. We are looking to stimulate politicians to intervene and fix the problem before it is too late," Gary Taylor concluded.

ENDS

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