In 2008 the Minister of Conservation prepared a draft National Coastal Policy Statement and appointed a prestigious Board of Inquiry to conduct extensive public consultation on it. The Board ultimately received 539 submissions and conducted 30 days of hearings around the country, completing this process in December 2008.

On 10 July 2009 the Board submitted its recommendations, which called for a strong National Policy Statement … to be adopted with urgency.

But there the matter has stalled — on the desk of the Conservation Minister. Finally, earlier this month, a frustrated member of the Board of Inquiry leaked the report.

The report cites serious shortcomings with the nation’s scattershot approach to coastal development. Here are some key observations (all direct quotes):

  • A major issue is the extent and scale of subdivision and development on the coast, particularly for residential and rural residential use, and the resulting loss of the coastal character. The natural character and recreational values of New Zealand’s coast are an important resource, not just available to New Zealanders but also to visitors from overseas. The intensity of built development along the coastline also has consequences for biodiversity and other direct and indirect effects such as limiting opportunities for future development of necessary infrastructure and other resource uses both on land and in the coastal marine area …
  • We found that in many places little or no priority is being accorded to ensuring the protection of the public open space and recreation values of the coastal marine area and adjoining public land, or public access to it …
  • In many parts of the coastline water quality has been significantly degraded by both point source and non-point source discharges. Sedimentation is a particular problem, stemming from urban as well as rural land use …
  • Natural hazards such as coastal erosion are a continuing problem which will be exacerbated by sea level rise and other changes associated with climate change. Probable changes to the nature of New Zealand’s coastline need to be considered when decisions are made about future development and about the management of existing development as well …
  • Tangata whenua values and interests in sustainable management have not been well catered for … There has been limited recognition of the enduring relationship of tangata whenua over their lands, territories and resources and their spiritual and cultural practices. That includes protecting characteristics of the coastal environment that are of special value to tangata whenua …
  • One issue is to ensure that infrastructure needs and the potential for renewable energy projects are adequately recognised in the sustainable management of the coastal environment …
  • These problems need to be dealt with urgently dealing with given the finite nature of the coastal environment and New Zealand’s situation as an island heavily reliant on natural resources and distant from global markets.

The report makes several comments of special relevance to Hawke’s Bay, considering our recent experience with Ocean Beach (and earlier, Cape Kidnappers):

“The preservation of natural character and the protection of outstanding natural features and landscape are all matters of national importance identified in s6 and many submissions supported the inclusion of policies directed at them. We agree that it is essential that areas with high natural character and outstanding natural features and landscapes are identified and that more weight is given to their protection than is occurring currently especially at district level. Protection of our coastal character is more than a matter of amenity value, being important to both domestic and international tourism.”

And on the matter of discharging human sewage into coastal waters:

“Local authorities must have early, meaningful and ongoing consultation with tangata mana whenua before including objectives, policies and rules in plans which provide for the discharge of treated human sewage into waters of the coastal environment. We also recommend strengthening the water quality policies to ensure that decision makers considering discharges to water in the coastal environment have proper regard to how to prevent or minimise adverse effects, particularly on ecosystems, habitats and the life- supporting capacity of water. That includes considering whether there is a need to discharge the contaminants to water, the risks involved in doing so and recognising the opportunities to reduce waste at source.”

A strong report, which you can download here. Unfortunately, it’s still anybody’s guess as to when the National-led Government will get around to actioning the “urgent” recommendations of its Board of Inquiry.

Tom Belford

P.S. Speaking of coastal development … Last month we reported that the Environment Court (and before that, an independent commissioner) rejected Hill Country’s appeal against paying its full $300,000 bill to the Hastings Council. These were the costs HDC incurred in reviewing Andy Lowe’s proposed private plan change to build 1,000 housing units at Ocean Beach.

Turns out we celebrated too soon. Developers are like pit bulls. Andy has now appealed the Environment Court ruling to the High Court. For Andy’s sake, he’d better be paying his lawyers on a contingency basis! The two previous appeals haven’t lowered his bill a dime. But they’re all costing ratepayers more money!

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