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Groundswell NZ's submission on the Natural Built Environment Bill

Jamie McFadden and the Team at Groundswell NZ

Presentation Summary: Natural Built Environment Bill – Environment Committee 


Groundswell NZ is presented by people that are everyday living and breathing the impacts of the Resource Management Act and associated environmental regulations.

Summary points to raise in support of our submission.

1.    Our key message is that both the NBA and SPA do not address the substantial failings in the RMA. The RMA is having massive detrimental outcomes on councils, communities, landowners, and our natural environment. We request you have a discussion with elected leaders ofEnvironment Canterbury regional council and Hurunui District Council to understand why the planning and consent system is overwhelmed and can no longer cope, and why the NBA, SPA and requirements under the NPS’s FreshwaterManagement and Indigenous Biodiversity will worsen the current situation.

2.    Submission points 2 & 3 highlight the inconsistency between the NBA and the most recent draft NPSIB. For example,Areas of Highly Vulnerable Biodiversity (clauses 555 – 565) is a major component of the NBA but there is no reference at all in the NPSIB. Similarly, clause 567 in the NBA – Power of Minister to declare critical habitat is nowhere in the NPSIB. This reinforces our claim of policies in silos and adds support to our submission request to pause all current environmental related policy and regulation changes until a thorough and wide-ranging review is undertaken.

3.    Solution. There is significant frustration across communities, landowners, and conservationists at the lack of a workable effective policy framework and action plan for dealing with environmental issues. Many districts at a grassroots level are taking matters into their own hands.

In my district of Hurunui, a collaborative environmental effort is underway on a scale that is unprecedented. The Hurunui District Landcare Group covers most hill and high-country farms and with 3 fulltime Catchment advisors are undertaking many environmental actions. All irrigating farmers belong to collectives and catchment groups also under taking multiple environmental actions. The Hurunui Biodiversity Trust has initiated a collaborative process to include landowner groups, rununga, and conservationists in developing a resource that will help deliver priority actions to address threats to our indigenous biodiversity habitats and species.Coordinated community programmes are already underway for the likes of deer control, braided river habitat protection, and wilding tree control.

There is widespread concern at how the RMA(and its successors the NBA & SPA) will continue to undermine the natural environment as an asset, penalize environmental effort and lead to a huge waste of money. So many opportunities have been lost over the past 30 years because of the failings of the RMA. We cannot emphasis enough how much of a mess the environmental policy framework is in.

Full written submission - 4th February 2023


Groundswell NZ was formed by Southland/Otagofarmers and business people. It has developed into a national campaign withcoordinators across New Zealand. We are quickly gaining support throughout thecountry from rural and urban people, the business sector, and some councils.With an email database of over 100,000 and a petition against the emissions taxon agriculture achieving 103,000 we are now recognized as a significant voiceon behalf of rural New Zealand.

Submission Point 1.

Groundswell NZ’s focus is on unworkable policies and regulations. This includes the Resource Management Act (RMA) and the associated National Policy Statements Freshwater Management and impendingIndigenous Biodiversity. We also have major concerns with the climate changepolicies and proposed emissions tax on agriculture.

Central to our concerns are:

- Policies constructed in silos creating conflicts between them e.g., climate change policies promoting and favouring pine forestry in a manner that conflicts with freshwater and Indigenous Biodiversity outcomes.

- Unintended consequences and perverse outcomes e.g., policies and regulations that turn indigenous biodiversity and wetlands on farms into a liability.

- Landowners proactive in environmental endeavour being penalized by regulations and compliance costs e.g., the more indigenous biodiversity on a given property the greater the impact of regulations on that property owner.

- Impacts on private property rights and property values, particularly from zonings originating fromSection 6 of the RMA.

- Poorly conceived policies and regulations that pit councils against their constituents and communities.

- The failure of policies and regulations to achieve the intended environmental outcomes.

- The huge cost burden on ratepayers, taxpayers, and property owners.  

The cumulative impact of the environmental regulations is past tipping point in what farmers can financially and mentally sustain. This has led to a significant mental welfare issue with the most recent confidence surveys hitting record lows and many farmers exiting the industry.

It is also past tipping point in terms of what councils and the industry can sustainably resource. The consenting system in Canterbury region is overwhelmed and can no longer cope with the extent and complexity of what is required.

Submission Point 2.

The changes proposed in the NBE Bill do not address the fundamental failings of the RMA. There are major problems with the National Policy Statements and these pieces of legislation should have been put on hold until a proper wide-ranging review of all national environmental policies and regulations was undertaken.

Further, we submit that progressing the NBE Bill and Spatial Planning Bill (SPB) simultaneously while developing and amendingNational Policy Statements is confusing, ineffective and inefficient, and puts the cart before the horse. The Indigenous Biodiversity provisions in the NBEBill are inconsistent with the most recent draft of the NPS-IB. We understand the next exposure draft of the NPS-IB is due out this year but having biodiversity provisions already detailed in the NBE Bill makes a mockery of any impending public consultation process on the NPS-IB.

For these reasons we are submitting the progress of all NPS’s must be paused until a proper wide- ranging review of all environmental legislation is undertaken.

Our submission is that all current environmental legislative proposals and changes at a national level be put on hold until a wide-ranging review as outlined above is undertaken. This review must include:

  1. All environmental policies and regulations including (but not limited to) the RMA, NPS’s, climate change policies, carbon forestry and     Emissions Trading Scheme, and weeds and pests.
  2. An analysis of the effectiveness of National Policy Statements as a planning mechanism.
  3. An analysis of the cumulative impacts of all environmental policies and regulations on property owners and landowners, including an assessment of whether the current policies and regulations are past tipping point in terms of what people can mentally and financially sustain.
  1. An analysis of the ability of councils to resource and effectively implement all existing and proposed requirements relating to environmental policies and regulations.
  2. Options for creating one integrated environmental policy framework that avoids policy conflicts, unintended consequences and perverse outcomes, and will deliver the intended environmental outcomes. We have publicly shared one alternative solution and would be happy to discuss this in more detail.

Submission Point 3.

The section of the NBE Bill relating to biodiversity Subpart 3 clauses 555 – 567 perpetuates the failed approach of theSignificant Natural Areas (SNA) policy in the RMA. The Areas of HighlyVulnerable Biodiversity (HVBA) combined with persisting with the SNA policy will continue to undermine biodiversity on private land as a liability rather than an asset. As outlined above we are happy to discuss our alternative solution to biodiversity as part of an integrated approach to environmental issues. We believe there needs to be a greater focus on the threats to biodiversity particularly weeds and pests. Active management is essential in protecting biodiversity and this can only be achieved with the buy in and support of landowners, something the NBE Bill provisions will fail to achieve.

Submission Point 4.

We oppose subpart 2 Freshwater Farm Plans clauses399 – 411. Farm plans can be an effective and useful tool for farmers to address environmental issues, but only if they are supported as an empowering tool. There are many successful farm plan approaches outside of the RMA, including Catchment Board and industry designed plans. The Taranaki RegionalCouncil (TRC) has one of the most successful farm plan approaches of any council and it relies on voluntary participation and a partnership approach. We note TRC has opposed the mandated freshwater farm plan approach as outlined in the NPS Freshwater Management and we request you read their Action for HealthyWaterways submission clauses 96 – 104. (Copied below in Appendix 1).

The Freshwater Farm plans introduces unprecedented state control over all farmers regardless of the effects of their activities, the catchment they are in, and whether there are any water quality issues in their catchment. For many farmers, particularly low impact extensive hill country properties the freshwater farm plan module significantly increases the regulatory oversight, compliance costs and public disclosure of private information. The governments rationale for mandatoryFreshwater Farm plans is to meet the expectations of overseas markets. However, this is outside the scope of the NBE Bill and the RMA and is more suited to an industry led approach. The governments Freshwater Farm plan is widely opposed by grassroots farmers. We submit it be withdrawn from the NBE Bill and undertaken as an industry led initiative instead.

Appendix 1 – Excerpt from Taranaki Regional Council Action for Healthy Waterways submission.

Freshwater Module of Farm Plans (NES Subpart 3)

96) The Council supports the use of non- regulatory farm plans which are bespoke and focused on the interventions that will achieve the outcomes sought at specific locations. Indeed this approach has been implemented by the Council and Taranaki landowners for a long time with significant improvements in water quality.

97) Most Taranaki farms have a farm plan already and have made significant progress implementing them. Within the intensively farmed area of the region 99.9% of farmers have a riparian management plan(refer Figure 5), and in the hill country 67% have comprehensive LUC based farm plans (refer Figure 6), with this figure rising to 82% of the area considered at risk of erosion.

98) In addition to the above tailored farm plans the Council encourages farmers to adopt good farm management practices. Council has worked with industry to support land owners to implement these.

99) With current programmes covering almost all farms in the region and achieving good results the Council does not see the need or value of mandatorily requiring additional freshwater farm plans(FW-FP). The merits (or otherwise) of a regulatory approach are best considered through local planning processes.

100) The proposal around FW-FPs in regard to what they would contain, how they would be developed and the auditing of them adds alayer of bureaucracy and cost which is unlikely in the Taranaki context to achieve any significant improvements for water quality over and above current initiatives. In particular, the proposed systems will result in large compliance costs for both land owners and Council. This will have knock-on effects to ratepayers.

101) The Council would support FW-FPs, as we do now, as a non-regulatory tool implemented by industry and individual landowners with support from the Council to assist with integration of our current targeted farm plans focusing on riparian management and sustainable land use practices to reduce erosion and sediment.

102) Taranaki farmers are already achieving impressive results and undertaking vast amounts of work under the Council’s voluntary farm plan regime. For example, Roger Pearce, is one of many Taranaki hill country farmers that have won environmental awards for their protection and enhancement of land, water and biodiversity on their properties. Roger’s property is featured in the video below:

103) In addition to the above issues around costs and benefits of compulsory FW-FPs in Taranaki there would also be significant issues with available capacity to deliver FW-FPs if the Government’s proposal is implemented as suggested.

104) For further information on the farm plans prepared by the Council that already cover the length and breadth of Taranaki please refer to

Relief sought: t) That the requirement for FW-FPs to be implemented in Taranaki be removed with recognition that most of Taranaki is covered under existing farm plans which are being implemented effectively.

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