The Land Protection Society has members across the spectrum – retirees, growers, retired farmers, business operators and city people – who share concerns about the loss of one of the major resources we are lucky enough to have in Hawke’s Bay. The newly-formed Society was created to coalesce three small groups all acting over these concerns.
The Heretaunga Plains are a significant land asset containing some 65 soil types. And they lie over another major resource, artesian water, that gives us the ability to utilize our land to major benefit for the region and nationally. The Hastings District Plan recognizes these assets, along with our fantastic climate, and notes the importance of them to the economic well-being of Hastings.
But the Plan is also very “permissive” in its approach to developments in the Plains Zone. This has allowed over time a number of activities that could be considered marginal for establishing in the Plains area. And along with new roads and a thriving economy, extra demands have been placed on Council for consents to establish activities that might be better directed to other zones.
Alarm bells first rang when it was suggested that a “big box” retail development could be located in the Plains Zone. It is of note that Mayor Yule stated that the Council did not want this to occur.
The Council’s Hearings Committee also turned down a number of applications that were challenging the integrity of the District Plan when it came to the Plains Zone. The increase in applications aroused the interest of more and more ratepayers, with many becoming concerned with where things were heading.
Other District Plans, for example Tasman District, appear to have a much more robust approach when considering the importance of the soils in their area. With Hastings and Hawke’s Bay being so reliant on the primary sector, one would think our District Plan would lead the way in championing our fertile soils. It should be paramount to hold our precious resources in the highest regard.
Our planning documents should back up the District Plan’s explanation of the importance of the Plains resource with rules that back up that importance. The Regional Resource Management Plan and Regional Policy Statement are also sadly lacking when it comes to providing guidance on our soil resource.
Plains soils allow for a wide range of crops to be grown, both permanent and long term with apples and stonefruit, but also with cropping, which underpins the presence of processing factories.
Varying soil types and micro-climates allow for a range of grape varieties and there is also a mixture of minor crops such as blueberries, limes, saphron etc.
This is all made possible by a favourable mix of soils, climate and available water.
Who would jeopardize this mix, which is rare in New Zealand and covers an area that is small in comparison to the total land area of New Zealand?
Then came the sports park
The move by the Hastings Council to propose a Sports Park on Percival Rd was the catalyst for the Land Protection Society to express major concerns about the loss of a large slice of prime land.
The most concerning aspect was that the location was such that it would invite the slow demise of a large block of land with some of the highest class soils on the Plains. Class 1&2 soils are a finite resource in New Zealand and for a Council itself to contemplate such a development on these soils was totally unbelievable. This from a Council who said they did not want “big box” development in the Plains Zone!
The fact that the athletics track was built without a publicly notified consent was unacceptable and the arguments about the referendum just do not wash. The fact that so much of a finite resource was proposed to be lost was enough reason, under the Resource Management Act, to require notification. Up front and accountable is how a Council should be.
The thrust of the Society, therefore, is to bring attention to the loss of such a valuable resource and to ensure the District Plan is robust in recognizing and protecting the Plains Zone. Speaking to many soil experts over the last few months has underlined to me that the Society is on the right track, and they fully support us in our endeavours.
The Society may have a narrow focus, but the ramifications of continuing to lose our land resource in an ad-hoc, piecemeal way are far too serious an issue for the future of our economy and Hawkes Bay. All our members are strong in their resolve to see some common sense prevail.
Recent changes to the Plains Zone section of the District Plan are going to have a positive impact on planning in the future. It is satisfying to see some of the loopholes being plugged. The Society will continue to monitor consent applications and make submissions where it thinks it should.
Members are also very forthcoming when discussing solutions to planning in the Hastings District. The Society is not anti-development. The Society wishes to be pro-active about future planning and does have ideas for future expansion and development. But we remain appalled at the way the Council has gone about a project that is in the wrong location. Hastings cannot just keep sprawling onto high-class soils. The District needs a comprehensive plan for the future.
That said, a report has been released by the Hastings District Council about the approach to be taken to addressing Plains development in cohorts with the Regional Council and Napier City Council. We believe the ingredients required to make decisions on the Plains area are already at hand and it is a shame to see $300,000 being allocated to this project.
The Society is willing to provide suggestions that are workable, show foresight and think outside the square. We intend approaching the Regional Council to instigate dialogue on better recognition of our soil resources.
The Society is not going to go away. The Heretaunga Plains are of national importance and should be secure for the use of future generations.
We welcome new members who have a genuine interest in supporting our aims of questioning inappropriate use of the Plains Zone, and advocating better planning for Hastings and the recognition of the importance of the Plains soils to our economy. Donations are also welcome.