Parker should brace for lobbying from guardians of the swamp after housing project is given fast-track panel’s approval

The Point of Order Ministerial Workload Watchdog and our ever-vigilant Trough Monitor were both triggered yesterday by an item of news from the office of Conservation Minister Kititapu Allan.

The minister was drawing attention to new opportunities to dip into the Jobs for Nature programme (and her statement was the only sign of life in the Beehive, for those who use such statements as a measure of ministerial activity, since last we reported).

Funding of $34 million is being made available to conservation groups and landowners to employ staff and contractors in a move aimed at boosting local biodiversity-focused projects.

Allan made the announcement at Waikanae, about an hour’s drive up the Kapiti coast from her ministerial office.   During the drive from Wellington – or did she take the train? – she would have passed a wetland known as the Taupo Swamp.

On the other side of the highway from the swamp,  between Plimmerton and Pukerua Bay, is a block of farmland.

The Dominion-Post would have informed Allen yesterday (if she did not already know) that this farmland is the intended site for the Plimmerton Farm development which aims to house as many as 2000 new homes.  The project – more likely to be environmentally harmful than beneficial to the swamp – has been given the approval of an independent panel.

The panel’s 163-page report supports the Porirua City Council’s request to have the 364-hectare block of rural land rezoned to a new Plimmerton Farm Zone under the District Plan.

“It could be said that [the proposed plan change” heralds a new dawn of opportunity, setting a new standard for urban development in Porirua (and wider),” the panel wrote in its report to the council.

The mixed-density development would include duplexes, single residential homes and lifestyle blocks, a retirement village, commercial area, neighbourhood centre and primary school.

A council report previously forecast that Porirua would run out of housing within three years, and that the council had “an obligation … to ensure [it was] able to provide sufficient feasible land to meeting housing demand”.

More housing is high priority for the Ardern Government.

But so is the clean-up of the country’s waterways.  The discussion on which of two conflicting policies should be given the greater priority will be fascinating.

A pity we won’t be invited to sit in on it.

The Plimmerton housing development is being pushed along under the fast-track process introduced to the Resource Management Act in 2017 called a Streamlined Plan Change.

This give Environment Minister David Parker the final say, largely without an appeal mechanism for any party.

Parker has received the panel’s final report and recommendations.  His job is to refer the plan change back to the council with his approval, for further consideration, or decline it.

He is bound to be lobbied by opponents of the Plimmerton Farm development, such as Friends of Taupō Swamp and Catchment (FTSC).

Their concern is that sediment and building waste will flow down from the rural site and into the swamp and on into Porirua Harbour.

Sediment in the  Porirua Harbour had doubled in five years, the Dominion-Post reported in August 2019.   

A survey of the harbour co-ordinated by the Greater Wellington Regional Council  found this sediment was undermining both animal and plant habitats and the healthy functioning of the estuary.

grading report from the Porirua Harbour and Catchment Community Trust gave the Porirua Harbour an F amid a range of concerns, including pollution, poor water quality and silt.

This report said the inflow of fine mud must be slowed – it could lead to nuisance algal growths.

Maybe opponents of the housing development should check out the Jobs for Nature funding announced by Allen.

The $34 million funding boost (the minister said) will create an estimated 400-plus jobs through employment opportunities in ecology, restoration, trapping, pest control, fencing and project management.

The trough has been divided –

  • An $18 million dedicated Private Land Biodiversity Fund will be available to established organisations that support groups of private landowners to work together to protect and restore rare habitats that safeguard populations of native species on private land.

Allen said this fund provides the opportunity to support groups of landowners to expand biodiversity projects while providing jobs.  It also supports the broader goals of the Aotearoa New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy and the proposed National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity.

  • The $16 million Community Conservation fund is for community-led conservation projects on public and private land, intended for community groups with a focus on practical projects aimed at conserving New Zealand’s indigenous biodiversity.

This approach will help established community groups scale up their projects, take their conservation goals to the next level and provide great employment opportunities for locals, Allen said.

The money comes from the $1.245 billion Jobs for Nature COVID-19 recovery package aimed at providing nature-based job opportunities for 11,000 people over the next four years.

Further details are available on the Department of Conservation’s Jobs for Nature webpage (https://www.doc.govt.nz/our-work/jobs-for-nature–mahi-mo-te-taiao/).

Latest from the Beehive

14 JANUARY 2021

Supporting communities and landowners to grow employment opportunities

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