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Wellington City Council's Unlawful SNAs: Letter To Councillors

The Council needs to abandon its Significant Natural Areas policy and erase all references to it in the District Plan. The SNA initiative is poorly conceived, unlawful and unconstitutional, and its progression has been marked by relentless deceit.

The policy is counter-productive

Wellington City Council is punishing those who have encouraged the growth of native bush on their land. In order to keep one's garden safe from the Council's predations, the only option is to keep it well-mown. 

The process has been dishonest and devious from conception to implementation

“The purpose […] is to identify significant natural areas within Wellington City in order to protect and maintain the remaining areas of indigenous biodiversity.”

The Council’s policy is nothing to do with identifying significant natural areas in order to protect them

The designated land consists of regenerating bush on former farmland, toxic weeds, pine, agapanthus, garden shrubbery and lawn. If there is anything significant, its inclusion is accidental, and it probably already has a covenant on it.

  • Regenerating bush on former farmland is NOT significant indigenous biodiversity of national significance.
  • Gorse, blackberry, pine, agapanthus, garden shrubbery and lawn do NOT constitute indigenous biodiversity of national significance.
  • Gardens with blossom trees are much loved by native birds – but nobody is asking them.

The council has largely ignored the report it commissioned from Boffa Miskel, ‘Wellington City Landscape Evaluation’ – the SNA designations as proposed bear little relation to its findings.

The purpose of SNAs is not to protect significant biodiversity, but to normalise forced rewilding on private land.

And not just private land but public parks. Queens Park in Thorndon is now an SNA, putting paid to the dream of locals of opening it up with more blossom trees. A popular grass area in the Kaukau bush has been disappeared into the SNA, with planting already begun. There has been no consultation on this: the disempowered public are expected to watch helplessly as something they use and love disappears beneath their eyes.

There has not been an honest attempt to inform those affected or the public as whole.

People affected are in the main unaware of the implications, even the existence of SNAs. The letter that went out in 2019 was in a pretty envelope and was expressed in such a way that the council seemed to be doing the property owner a favour, rather than expropriating land for rewilding. At a meeting in Khandallah it was made very clear to mayor and councillors that many people were shocked to learn of the project. Why is the council pretending that it has properly informed owners?

To this day, most Wellingtonians haven’t a clue about SNAs or the implications.

The SNA policy shows a callous disregard for the loss incurred by homeowners and occupiers.

Homeowners and occupiers lose the right to make full use of the land they occupy.

The SNAs have blithely wiped a substantial part of the value of many properties, which can be hundreds of thousands of dollars for just a suburban home and garden. Some of this land is mortgaged, and the homeowner faces increasing their deposit to make up for the loss in value or selling the property.

To contest the designation or any restriction on use involves the owner in great expense, and risks throwing good money after bad. One property owner commissioned a report from private ecological consultants: it cost $25,000 and has been dismissed by council officers. The need to apply for resource consent to make changes to land use will discourage most owners, given the frustration and prohibitive expense that this can entail.

The Policy is flawed in its conception.

The policy will achieve the opposite of what it claims to be aiming for. By trampling over property owners’ rights, the council is alienating those citizens who care most for nature and the environment. There is a huge disincentive to replace lawn with native bush if by doing so this makes it vulnerable to a council land grab.

The Policy is unlawful.

Wellington City Council, the Greater Wellington Regional Council and Forest & Bird all claim authority from the Resource Management Act, Section 6 (c). This is false: there is nothing in the RMA that justifies the forced rewilding of environmentally insignificant land in private ownership.

I have been advised by council officers that they are now relying on the finalisation of the National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity to give legitimacy to the policy. To date the NPS is ‘not finalised or in effect‘ – and certainly wasn’t when Council started its SNA roll-out in 2019.

Without amendments to the RMA, the NPS, which is intended to facilitate implementation of the RMA, cannot be seen as a justification for the SNA programme.

The Policy is unconstitutional.

Any government measures to legitimatise the SNA programme will be unconstitutional. The Legislation Guidelines (2021 edition), which have been adopted by Cabinet as the government’s key point of reference for assessing whether draft legislation is consistent with accepted legal and constitutional principles, recognise respect for property as a fundamental constitutional principle:

‘New legislation should respect property rights.

‘People are entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of their property […]. The Government should not take a person’s property without good justification. A rigorously fair procedure is required and compensation should generally be paid.’

Wellington City Council must follow the example of other councils and abandon its SNA project.

Barbara McKenzie
Wellington SNA Committee

Is your property affected?

You can view the online Significant Natural Areas map at the Council's "Backyard Taonga" webpage.


What you can do to oppose WCC's illegitimate SNA policy

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