29 December 2016
Report no: DPC2017/1/20
Ecosites, Landscapes and Coastal Natural Character
Purpose of Report
1. This report sets out a suggested whole-of-Council approach to the management of significant ecosites, landscape areas and coastal natural character areas.
It is recommended that the Committee:
(i) notes the work currently being undertaken on the District Plan review of ecosites, landscapes areas and coastal natural character areas;
(ii) recommends that Council approves the management of significant ecosites, landscape areas and coastal natural character areas involves a whole-of-Council approach including regulatory management in the District Plan complemented by non-regulatory methods including:
(a) a new Parks and Gardens Division role to work on biodiversity and landscape matters on Council land and to work with private landowners on property management plans and access to funding and information;
(b) a fund for land management and enhancement works including planting, fencing, weed and pest management, and covenanting assistance;
(c) consent fee remission including where consent requirements are triggered solely by ecosite, landscape or coastal natural character District Plan provisions or activities are being carried out in accordance with an agreed management plan;
(d) amendment (via Special Consultative Procedure) of the existing rates remission policy for protected culturally significant sites, historic buildings, structures and places, and archaeological sites to address significant ecosites, landscapes areas and coastal natural character areas; and
(iii) recommends to the Community Plan Committee that an additional $87,000 per year for Parks and Gardens work and consent fee remission is provided for in the Long Term Plan.
2. This section explains the terms ecosites, landscape areas and coastal natural character areas and sets out Council’s obligations to manage and protect them in regard to private land. District Plan provisions will not apply to the Conservation estate. The terms and their origins are summarised in Table 1 below.
Table 1 - Terms and Their Origins
Suggested HCC Summary Term
Coastal Natural Character Areas
· Coastal Natural Character Areas
· Section 6(a) RMA
· NZ Coastal Policy Statement
· Areas of High Coastal Natural Character
· Wellington Regional Policy Statement
· Outstanding Natural Features
· Outstanding Natural Landscapes
· Section 6(b) RMA
|· Special Amenity Landscapes||
· Wellington Regional Policy Statement
· Areas of significant indigenous vegetation
· Significant habitats of indigenous fauna
· Section 6(c) RMA
|· Indigenous ecosystems||
· Wellington Regional Policy Statement
· HCC Environmental Sustainability Strategy
· Significant Natural Resources
· City of Lower Hutt District Plan
3. Council’s obligations to manage and protect ecosites, landscape areas and coastal natural character areas come from the Resource Management Act and national and regional policies that stem from the RMA.
4. Section 6 of the RMA requires Council to:
…recognise and provide for the following matters of national importance:
(a) the preservation of the natural character of the coastal environment (including the coastal marine area), wetlands, and lakes and rivers and their margins, and the protection of them from inappropriate subdivision, use, and development;
(b) the protection of outstanding natural features and landscapes from inappropriate subdivision, use, and development;
(c) the protection of areas of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of indigenous fauna.
Coastal Natural Character Areas
5. The NZ Coastal Policy Statement provides further policy direction to Council on the concept of coastal natural character in Section 6(a). Policy 13(2) of the NZCPS states:
Recognise that natural character is not the same as natural features and landscapes or amenity values and may include matters such as:
(a) natural elements, processes and patterns;
(b) biophysical, ecological, geological and geomorphological aspects;
(c) natural landforms such as headlands, peninsulas, cliffs, dunes, wetlands, reefs, freshwater springs and surf breaks;
(d) the natural movement of water and sediment;
(e) the natural darkness of the night sky;
(f) places or areas that are wild or scenic;
(g) a range of natural character from pristine to modified; and
(h) experiential attributes, including the sounds and smell of the sea; and their context or setting.
6. Section 6(a) requires coastal natural character to be preserved and protected from inappropriate subdivision, use, and development.
7. The RPS (Policy 3) refines that requirement to mean that areas of high coastal natural character need to be protected from inappropriate subdivision, use, and development.
8. The RPS (Policy 4) also requires district plans to identify by policies and/or rules the landward extent of the coastal environment.
9. The City of Lower Hutt District Plan does not currently identify or address coastal natural character areas or identify the landward extent of the coastal environment.
10. Section 6(b) introduces the landscape terms outstanding natural features and outstanding natural landscapes. The requirement is protection from inappropriate subdivision, use, and development.
11. The RPS notes that outstanding natural features and outstanding natural landscapes:
…are considered to be exceptional and iconic, and while not necessarily pristine, they are landscapes in which natural elements and processes dominate.
12. The RPS then introduces a further category of landscapes - Special Amenity Landscapes. The RPS states that Special Amenity Landscapes are:
…more modified than the outstanding natural landscapes and features, they are none the less distinctive, widely recognised and highly valued by the community.
13. The RPS requires that Special Amenity Landscapes are managed to maintain or enhance these values.
14. The District Plan does not currently identify or address landscape areas comprehensively and systematically. While the zone called Landscape Protection Activity Area purports to “recognise the unique physical landscape of the steep undeveloped residential areas, and its contribution to the visual backdrop of the City” it has not been identified and located using any recognised landscape assessment methodology.
15. Section 6(c) requires:
…the protection of areas of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of indigenous fauna.
16. The Regional Policy Statement for the Wellington Region (RPS) explains (p139) that:
District and city councils in the Wellington region have primary responsibility for controlling the use of land to maintain indigenous biological diversity (other than in the coastal marine area and the beds of lakes and rivers) through the creation of objectives, policies and rules in their district plans.
Wellington Regional Council has the primary responsibility for the control of the use of land to maintain and enhance indigenous ecosystems in water bodies (including wetlands) and coastal water.
17. The RPS uses the terms indigenous ecosystems and habitats with significant indigenous biodiversity values. In this report, areas of significant indigenous vegetation, significant habitats of indigenous fauna, indigenous ecosystems and habitats with significant indigenous biodiversity values are termed Ecosites.
18. The RPS requires district plans to include policies, rules and methods to protect indigenous ecosystems and habitats with significant indigenous biodiversity values from inappropriate subdivision, use and development.
19. HCC’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy (ESS) uses various terms in various contexts, including biodiversity/habitat, ecologically significant areas and natural areas.
20. The ESS Implementation Plan contains several relevant action points including:
Objective - Critical areas of the city are effectively protected and monitored and responses altered to adjust to changing risks.
BPT2 Facilitate and support community restoration projects that contribute to Council’s environmental objectives and match the aspirations of the community.
BPT3 Facilitate and encourage protection of biodiversity/habitat on private property.
Objective – Council plans for suitable connectivity of flora and fauna and community amenity.
BCC1 Develop a viable connected web of natural areas at a large scale to support typically representative species and genetic diversity over the long term.
Objective – Key biodiversity connections are identified and invested in.
BCT1 Advocate for adequate protection and funding of biodiversity locally.
21. Chapter 14E of the District Plan currently provides an objective and several policies for the protection of identified Significant Natural Resources (SNRs). The SNRs were initially associated with rules also but since December 2005, as a result of Environment Court action (W13/2003), they no longer have effect on private land.
22. The Court decision traversed a number of matters. Key findings included that significant sites must be accurately mapped at an appropriate scale and the identification of significance must be based on evidence.
23. The decision left the protection of ecosites on private land largely at the discretion of the landowners, a situation preferred by the Council of the time.
24. However, since then, Environment Court case law has developed further. In a 2014 case brought by Forest and Bird against New Plymouth DC (NZEnvC219) the Court found that reliance on community attitude to protect significant natural areas was not adequate because it did not take account of differences in community attitudes and the high vulnerability of some significant sites.
25. In its meeting minutes of 5 July 2011 (Minute No. PC110308) the Policy and Regulatory Committee noted the District Plan’s rules for significant natural resources no longer applied to private land. The minutes noted Council’s statutory obligations to protect significant natural resources and instructed officers to begin the following:
a review of the provisions for significant natural resources in the District Plan, including an assessment of other options for managing the protection of significant natural resources outside the District Plan;
District Plan Review Progress
26. In 2015 Council commissioned three key technical assessments from consultants:
· Identification of significant Coastal Natural Character Areas. This work was done jointly with Wellington City Council and Greater Wellington Regional Council and assessed the coastal environment of the entire coastline of Wellington and Hutt City Councils.
· Identification of significant Landscape Areas. This work built on an earlier regional scoping study.
· Identification of significant ecosites. This work was initiated jointly with Upper Hutt City Council using an approach developed in Kapiti District and refined to fit with the significance criteria of the Regional Policy Statement.
27. The three assessments are technical and yet to be completed. The Landscape and Ecosites assessments will require ground-truthing in consultation with affected land owners plus community and Iwi perspectives.
28. However, before engaging with landowners, officers would like to have a clear understanding of Council’s preferred approach to management of significant sites. Landowners are likely to want to know the implications of having significant sites identified on their properties so they can engage in an informed manner.
29. At a briefing held on 31 August 2016 Councillors discussed options for the management of significant sites and stakeholder engagement and instructed officers to further develop the options, including indicative costs.
30. The regulatory approach is to identify significant sites as overlays on the District Plan maps, as shown in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1 Property with Overlays
31. The overlays would be associated with rules managing the following:
· Vegetation clearance
· Subdivision, to avoid new building areas and driveways in sensitive areas.
32. In general, consent applications would need to be supported by ecological or landscape evidence as appropriate. Consent fees could be remitted for activities carried out in accordance with an agreed property management plan or for consents triggered solely by the overlay.
33. Vegetation clearance would require resource consent with some permitted exceptions, which could include the following:
· Maintenance of tracks and fences
· Pest control
· Enhancement works
· Utilities maintenance
· Within 10m of dwelling
· Safety threats
· Removal of dead and diseased vegetation
· Legal controls apply
· Customary practices.
34. Existing rules for earthworks may need to be strengthened, with additional discretion reserved to consider effects on significant sites, including ecological effects and the visual effects of earthworks and land stabilisation measure such as retaining walls. Resource consent is already required for most earthworks.
35. New house sites would be discouraged within ecosite overlays, with the exception of dwellings on vacant lots, where vegetation clearance of say 300m2 could be enabled as a controlled activity (for which consent cannot be declined). That would provide for a building footprint of say 200m2 plus some cleared area adjacent to the building.
36. New buildings such as farm buildings and structures in landscape overlays would require consent and be assessed on their merits.
37. Subdivision in overlays would be a restricted discretionary activity. No additional restrictions would apply if new lots were created outside and set back from overlays. Matters of consideration in resource consent applications would include positive and negative effects. Subdivisions create opportunities to facilitate protective legal instruments on property titles such as covenants under the Queen Elizabeth the Second National Trust Act 1977 or the Reserves Act 1977 or consent notices as conditions of subdivision consent. There may be opportunities to allow subdividers to gain bonus allotments in return for strong ecological or landscape benefits.
38. This report suggests the most effective Council approach to the management of significant ecosites, landscape areas and coastal natural character areas is a whole-of-Council approach that complements the rules in the District Plan with non-regulatory measures that sit outside the District Plan. This section runs through the measures that were discussed with Councillors at the briefing of 31 August 2016 then suggests a specific package as the Council’s approach. The suggested approach has been developed in discussion with the Divisional Manager Parks and Gardens, the Divisional Manager Strategy and Planning and the Environmental Sustainability Manager.
39. While regulatory measures provide some bottom line protection of significant sites, they are unlikely to provide for the long term health of ecosites in particular. Healthy ecosites typically require stock exclusion and ongoing pest and weed management – management measures that rely on active, informed, engaged land owners. Non-regulatory measures would be aimed at making gains by including support for such private land owners.
40. The 31 August 2016 Councillor briefing discussed the following non-regulatory measures:
· Free advice and promotion of significant site protection
· Grant funding
· Free or discounted materials
· Resource consent fee remittance
· Encouraging legal protection
· Rates relief
· Council land management.
41. A free Biodiversity advisory service would be equivalent to Council’s existing EcoDesign advisory service that provides advice to homeowners on design matters such as home heating, insulation and ventilation. Biodiversity advice could include the following, on site and in the Council office:
· Promotion of indigenous biodiversity
· Ecological assessments
· Assistance in the preparation of property management plans
· Weed and pest management advice
· Advice in gaining funding
· Written guidance material
· Advice around gaining legal protection of sites
· Monitoring of the condition of significant sites.
42. The advice would increase access to information, assist in complying with regulations and encourage discussion about proposed future works and activities and how to best achieve those while protecting ecological and landscape values.
43. Property management plans can be useful to mark out the intended management of areas of a property. For example, a management plan could show existing built, productive, bush and wetland ecosite areas, describe the condition of and threats to the areas, list methods to improve the condition of the ecosite and identify future land use intentions such as the location of buildings and productive areas.
44. A management plan can provide a link between voluntary and regulatory methods with plan development and compliance opening an easier consent pathway, consent fee remission or access to funding.
45. Grant funding could be available on a contestable basis by application or prioritised to favour properties with agreed management plans.
46. Materials potentially made available could include seeds, plants, tools, traps, fencing and weed spray.
47. Resource consent fees could be remitted when the trigger for consent is solely an ecosite, landscape area or coastal natural character overlay area and/or the application includes a property management plan.
48. In cases of subdivision, financial contribution (reserves contribution) for new lots could be waived if the application includes a management plan, legal protection of significant sites or land is gifted to Council, in cases where Council may wish to acquire the land.
49. Increased legal protection via instruments on property titles may be useful. As mentioned earlier, opportunities for covenants or consent notices on title may arise at the time of land subdivision but some options can be sought voluntarily at any time. Covenants under the Queen Elizabeth the Second National Trust Act 1977 are highly regarded but are generally available only to larger (40 hectare) ecosites.
50. Rates relief is a mechanism often sought by landowners in response to mandatory regulatory protection of sites and is likely to be suggested during the consultation phase of the project. The concept of the community partially compensating a private landowner for their provision of a public good is a concept Council has embraced through its policy on Notable Trees, where Council takes on the maintenance costs of privately owned Notable Trees that have been voluntarily listed in the District Plan.
51. Council currently has a rates remission policy for voluntarily protected culturally significant sites, historic buildings, structures and places, and archaeological sites. The policy is intended to support the District Plan provisions in protecting and promoting the sites.
52. To gain rates remission, landowners are required to apply annually. The policy states that Council will assess applications using the following criteria:
· The extent to which the protection and promotion of culturally significant sites, historic buildings, structures and places, and archaeological sites will be promoted by granting remission of rates on the rating unit.
· The degree to which the culturally significant sites, historic buildings, structures and places, and archaeological sites are present on the land.
· The degree to which the, culturally significant sites, historic buildings, structures and places, and archaeological sites inhibit the economic utilisation of the land.
53. Rates may be remitted on a case-by-case up to a maximum of 50% of the money spent by the landowner to protect the significant site, to a maximum of 50% of the property’s annual general rates. Remissions are for one rating year only, with applications being considered annually.
54. The concept of rates relief can be well-regarded by landowners and targeted rates relief along the lines of the existing rates remission policy has the potential to be highly effective. Significant ecosites, landscape areas and coastal natural character areas could usefully be added to the scope of the policy. Adjustment to the policy would be required in terms of whether protection is voluntary or not.
55. Council has significant reserve land holdings (2,345 hectares of natural environments), some of which are likely to be identified as significant sites. While Council policy (including Reserve Management Plans, Urban Forest Plan, Environmental Sustainability Strategy) is to show leadership in managing biodiversity and natural areas, current resourcing is short of what would be required to achieve the reserve land’s potential. A useful step forward would be to have in-house ecological expertise.
Suggested Whole-of-Council Approach
56. The District Plan regulatory measures outlined above are being developed into a plan change proposal for consultation. As noted, District Plan regulations alone are unlikely to meet Council’s aspirations for comprehensive, long term protection and enhancement of significant sites. The District Plan change process will involve significant engagement with affected landowners to ground-truth and add community and Iwi perspectives to the technical reports prepared by consultants. There will be an ongoing operational role in working with landowners to assist with and promote positive, active management of significant sites. There is also an ongoing operational role in increasing Council’s efforts in biodiversity on Council reserve land.
57. The engagement with landowners on the forthcoming District Plan proposal is currently intended to come from the existing allocation for the District Plan review. The level of that allocation is the topic of a report elsewhere in this agenda.
58. This report suggests provision is made in the 2017-2018 Annual Plan for a new role of “Biodiversity Advisor” to be created once the proposed Plan change is operative. The role would be undertaken by the Parks and Gardens Division. The role would provide input into the management of Council reserve land for biodiversity, landscape and natural character, manage the biodiversity actions of the Environmental Sustainability Strategy Implementation Plan, coordinate Council’s pest plant and wilding pine action plans, advise on ecological matters for Council-related projects (e.g. Petone 2040) and work with private landowners on the matters outlined earlier such as property management plans and access to information and funding.
59. This report suggests LTP provision is also made for materials and for physical works such as planting and pest and weed management. Provision would also be required for resource consent fee remission. Significant ecosites, landscape areas and coastal natural character areas could also be added to the scope of the rates remission policy (changes to which would require consultation using the Special Consultative Procedure).
60. Engagement with stakeholders is discussed above.
61. Council’s statutory obligations under Section 6 of the RMA are discussed above.
62. Long Term Plan funding considerations are discussed above.
63. In making this recommendation, officers have given careful consideration to the purpose of local government in section 10 of the Local Government Act 2002. Officers believe that this recommendation falls within the purpose of the local government in that it enables Council to fulfil its statutory obligations and community aspirations. It does this in a way that is cost-effective because it suggests appropriate targeting of resources in the Long Term Plan.
There are no appendices for this report.
Author: Andrew Cumming
Divisional Manager Environmental Policy
Approved By: Kim Kelly
General Manager, Strategic Services