Frustrated landowners cutting down trees to avoid environmental protection status – Advice Eating

Landowners in Wellington are circumventing rules designed to protect natural biodiversity on private property by cutting down trees and clearing native bush.

Wellington City Council is poised to include new rules for Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) in its new district plan, meaning Wellingtonians with rare or threatened native ecosystems on their property will not be able to clear or develop it.

Significant Natural Areas were first introduced in the 1991 Resource Management Act, with councils tasked with identifying and protecting areas with significant areas of native biodiversity.

The new district plan is slated to go into effect in July, after which residents must apply to have their SNA classification revoked or changed if they want to make any changes to their land — whether it’s building a home or pulling down a shrub.

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Brent Slater, Kaiwharawhara resident and real estate developer, has been told he will not be able to build on his property on part of the regenerating bush thanks to the new Significant Natural Area (SNA) classifications, which are due to come into effect later this year.

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Brent Slater, Kaiwharawhara resident and real estate developer, has been told he will not be able to build on his property on part of the regenerating bush thanks to the new Significant Natural Area (SNA) classifications, which are due to come into effect later this year.

Brent Slater owns a 4000 square meter tract at Kaiwharawhara overlooking the harbor and an area of ​​regenerating native bush intended to be protected as an SNA.

Slater called it “theft by stealth,” with plans to build a second home on the “million-dollar lot” that would fail due to the restrictions.

“The creation of SNAs is an admirable concept that would expand the Wellington borough for generations to come, but it should not be introduced at the expense of a few.”

Meanwhile, neighbors got out of those restrictions by removing vegetation before protection could be applied. “Four of them got chainsaws for Christmas,” Slater said.

A snapshot of the Council's map, part of the Backyard Tāonga public information campaign, shows the extent of areas to be classified as SNAs across Wellington.

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A snapshot of the Council’s map, part of the Backyard Tāonga public information campaign, shows the extent of areas to be classified as SNAs across Wellington.

Mayoral candidate and SNA Wellington Committee founder Barbara McKenzie said people are saddened by the removal of native biodiversity from their properties but feel they have no choice.

“People are in a dilemma,” she said. “They want the option [to build later]. Maybe they have a kid who could build there, or they want to build a granny flat in ten years.”

things has seen emails between council staff and another resident about the removal of native vegetation, saying: “Your decisions are yours to make.”

Some of Brent Slater's neighbors felled trees before they were protected.

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Some of Brent Slater’s neighbors felled trees before they were protected.

Liam Hodgetts, the council’s chief planning officer, said there were no legal ramifications for landowners who chose to remove vegetation until the district plan was finalized later this year.

Officials had never encouraged or implied that the vegetation should be removed. “However, at this time it is not illegal to remove it.”

Community engagement with SNAs began in 2019 “to have plenty of time to personally engage with impacted landowners” and allow landowners to challenge ecological assessments, Hodgetts said.

The area of ​​regenerating bush in front of the home was earmarked for a new home with a

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The area of ​​regenerating bush in front of the home was earmarked for a new home with a “million dollar view” that cannot continue to be built if SNA restrictions are imposed on it.

“We deliberately chose this intensive engagement approach because we knew there was a potential risk that people might move to removing SNAs while it was still legal. As a result, we have seen no rush to remove vegetation.”

After reviewing the district plan submissions, the council drafted changes to the rules to allow more flexibility for specific activities within an SNA without requiring resource approval.

Amelia Geary, spokeswoman for Forest & Bird, said many important ecosystems are confined almost entirely to private land, and landowners and councils should work together to protect areas where regionally rare or threatened plants or animals can still be found — “particular ones places [which] tended to be maintained by previous and existing landowners, so they still exist”.

“Habitat loss is one of the greatest threats to wildlife in New Zealand, so it is important that we take care of the significant areas we have left behind, whether they are on public or private land.”

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