Council refutes claims it is not consulting over environmental designations

About 10 percent of Hutt Valley households whose properties have been given new ecological protection designations have so far sought inspections by council staff to work through their concerns.

Now the council is urging others who would like a one-on-one meeting to be in touch.

The Significant Natural Area designation restricts changes owners can make to their land if the property contains ecologically significant indigenous flora and fauna.

The council sent letters to about 1500 property owners earlier this year saying their land had been identified as part of an SNA and there are now fears that could devalue the properties concerned.

One resident, Kathryn Cretney told RNZ that aerial photos of her property used for the Council’s assessment were taken several years ago.

She said the only vegetation in her yard is the shrubs she planted herself.

Hutt City Council’s general manager of city transformation, Kim Kelly says she would be happy to talk through those issues with Ms Cretney but the Council took the approach of sending out a letter and a map to residents because several other councils introducing SNAs had already successfully done it that way.

“It did say here’s the first cut of what we think the SNA is on your property, but we want to work in a collaborative manner, ie. outside the RMA process.

“[We want to] work with you individually because each map is individual to a property, to work out the extent to which you agree with this or not.”

More than 100 people who received the letters have already asked for individual site visits and Kim Kelly is urging anyone else with concerns about the affect on their property to do the same.

She said the site visits have already led to changes in some SNAs.

“We’ve talked directly to landowners… and as a result… [some] boundaries [have been moved] at least 10 metres from legally established buildings with a footprint of 10 square metres or more, extending areas that have regenerated or been planted within the last 23 years as evidenced by 1995 aerial photography.

“So those two things are based on direct feedback from the people we’ve been having logical, orderly one-on-one conversations with.”

Kim Kelly said had the council made the changes part of a formal Resource Management Act process, that could have been a lot more restrictive for residents.

However she said the council is looking at what kind of relief it might offer ratepayers affected by the proposed changes.

“These are ideas, not definites, but we could agree for instance to give property owners additional development rights in exchange for an SNA, so you protect that bit and you get extra development rights over this other bit that other people don’t have.

“We could give rates relief for ecological protection for [the] public good [of] that.”

Kim Kelly said over a year ago the council hired an ecological officer so that landowners would have someone to work with to iron out areas of concern.