Curbing the creep of concrete into the countryside to protect our most fertile land for food production

Buzz from the Beehive

The Government’s policy to protect fertile land – food producers insist – has been too long coming.

The pace of urban sprawl and of concreting over fertile soils strongly suggests the growers are right.  Over the past 20 years, about 35,000 hectares of our highly productive land has been carved up for urban or rural residential development while 70,000 hectares has been converted to lifestyle blocks.

But a National Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land (NPS-HPL) will require councils to identify, map and manage highly productive land to ensure its availability for growing vegetables, fruit and other primary production.

Environment Minister David Parker said the NPS will greatly improve the protection of highly productive land from inappropriate subdivision, use and development.

 “We need to house our people and to feed them too. Our cities and towns need to grow but not at the expense of the land that’s best suited to grow our food.

“The NPS-HPL will help protect our best growing areas so Kiwis continue to have access to leafy greens and other healthy foods.”

Agriculture and Trade Minister Damien O’Connor said highly productive land provides food for New Zealanders, significant economic and employment benefits to communities and underpins the value of New Zealand’s primary sector.

“Once land is built on, it can no longer be used to grow food and fibre. That’s why we are moving to protect our most fertile and versatile land, especially in our main food production areas like Auckland, Waikato, Hawke’s Bay, Horowhenua and Canterbury, ” Damien O’Connor said.

Associate Agriculture Minister Meka Whaitiri said the Government has worked closely with local authorities, industry, growers, and Māori organisations to develop a policy that is workable and fit-for-purpose.

“This policy statement supports the sector by ensuring our best land will remain available for food and fibre production,” Meka Whaitiri said.

The NPS-HPL sits alongside other national direction, including the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and the National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD).

The NPS-HPL will work in a complementary way with the NPS-UD. Urban intensification enabled under the NPS-UD will reduce the demand for outward urban growth on highly productive land.

“This recognises that using land for primary production needs to occur within environmental limits, and ensures that all land can be used and managed to best effect,” David Parker said.

 Councils, in limited circumstances, will still be able to rezone highly productive land for urban housing if less productive land is not available, or if certain tests can be met.

But the NPS-HPL will introduce strong restrictions on the use of highly productive land for new rural lifestyle developments, he said.

The NPS-HPL will be transitioned into the two Acts replacing the Resource Management Act – the Spatial Planning Act (SPA) and the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA).

The National Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land 2022 will be available here:

RNZ reported a Pukekohe grower saying the new policy should have been implemented long ago.

Jivan Produce owner Bharat Jivan said the pace of housing intensification has quickened in the past 15 years and growers were running out of space to grow crops.

Similarly, in Hawke’s Bay, Yummy Apples general manager Paul Paynter said about 3400 hectares in Hastings alone had been covered in concrete over the past 80 years

He said the new policy statement could be a little confusing, “but the principles they’ve put in place are very sensible and they’re functional, deliver good outcomes”.

Environment Minister David Parker told Morning Report most councils were in favour of the new policy statement.

It’s probably too late for the government to come up with a Three Waters policy that similarly is favoured by most councils.

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One thought on “Curbing the creep of concrete into the countryside to protect our most fertile land for food production

  1. Hi Bob,
    I am enjoying your comments in general.
    Regarding this one, (and I know you are essentially just relaying a government press release) I would like to ask what definition is used of ‘highly productive land’ when bemoaning the loss of 35,000 (really??) hectares of it? 35,000 ha may be true but ‘highly productive? All of it?
    Living in Hamilton I have seen the expansion over various tracts of former Dairy farming or drystock land but none for example over Horticultural land. The dairy farming land is easily made up for by the conversion of lower forms of land use into dairying or increased productivity of the remaining farms, and indeed the supply of milk from NZ’s dairy farms continues to grow over-all.

    Outdoor horticultural loss could be an issue but horticultural green houses can be put on almost any type of land as they use imported sterilised soil or increasingly soil-less hydroponics.
    If we had lost 35,000 ha of ‘highly productive’ horticultural land without replacing it at the same time our population increased by around a million people we’d be in starvation mode! What data is available to show the actual overall total increase in the intensive use of ‘highly productive land’ to replace that ‘lost’?

    The unquestioned use of such ‘selected’ statistics by bureaucrats and political ideologs to ‘Classify’ and thus constrain land use threatens property rights and just doesn’t help. It will result in massive unintended consequences analogous to the policies that, whilst ostensibly intending to protect tenant rights, have seen a 50-60% rise in rents and a dramatic increase in homelessness in just 4 years.
    Will classification of such land increase its price? In many cases almost certainly and along with that an increase in food prices. In other cases it will reduce land prices vis a vis urban values and limit a growers ability to borrow to further develop or intensify. And will it remove land from city expansion meaning cities will stretch out more with increases in transportation issues? And if a city surrounds such a ‘highly productive’ remnant will the growers be allowed to spray or fertilise or use heavy machinery at all and any hours by their neighbours? When a grower sells some land to a developer are there any studies to show whether they re-invest their gains into a similar enterprise elsewhere? Is enough ‘highly productive land’ available to easily replace that taken up by urban expansion? (Yes, easily!)

    As a former agronomist and farm consultant it dismays me to see such reckless use of unverified statistics to justify more bureaucratic and governmental interference that will undoubtedly distort the playing field leading to food price increases and a swathe of other unintended consequences.

    Just saying!!
    Laurence Day


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