Around New Zealand there are some areas on the fringes of our towns and cities which are everyone's little piece of paradise. "But for how long" asks the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. "How can we maintain the elements of paradise in the beautiful lands where more and more New Zealanders want to live? Are our laws and plans robust enough to ensure that the cherished landscapes will be sustained long term?"
Dr Williams latest report, Managing change in paradise: sustainable development in peri-urban areas looks at a number of case studies where development pressure threatens the very values that attracted people there in the first place. The report reveals that both nationally important landscapes, such as those around Queenstown, as well as regionally significant areas, such as the Waitakere Ranges near Auckland and the Pauahatanui Inlet north of Wellington, face an uncertain future.
The communities living in these areas are diverse and hold a range of conflicting opinions about private property rights versus the need to protect natural heritage, landscape and cultural values. Community participation, local leadership and national guidance are essential to build consensus and develop a long-term vision for sustainable development in such areas. District plans developed under the Resource Management Act 1991are the primary tool for ongoing management, but accountability is often poor and it is difficult to manage cumulative effects that develop over time.
The planning processes in the freehold parts of Waitakere Ranges, despite some innovative efforts, are leading to death by a thousand cuts. "In 100 years such areas will look like Remuera today" concludes Dr Williams. "While some development certainty is needed for landowners wishing to expand residential use of peri-urban lands, communities must also be assured that cherished features will be protected and retained."
The report raises many questions about development and its impacts, council capacities, and what is valued in peri-urban areas before concluding that there are lessons to be learned from the first generation of plans prepared under the Resource Management Act 1991. To ensure the lessons are extracted, the Commissioner recommends that the Minister for the Environment undertake a review of experience to date in preparing the first generation of RMA plans and look at whether or not current planning processes are delivering what New Zealanders want in the long term.