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Source: Auckland Council

Protections to preserve Auckland’s highly productive land for growing vegetables, fruits, and other primary production uses, have recently strengthened, helping to safeguard this precious resource now and for future generations.

A new policy introduced by central government under the Resource Management Act means Auckland Council will now have greater powers to limit development on its highest quality rural land.

The National Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land (NPS-HPL), which came into force in late 2022, now provides councils nationwide with consistent guidance on the management of the country’s most fertile and versatile land, at a time when that land is vulnerable to urban development, rural lifestyle subdivision, and ad-hoc development proposals.

The Auckland region is a crucial growing area for New Zealand due to the frost-free climate and the proximity to the upper North Island market. Auckland growers can supply leafy greens and brassicas on a year-round basis and the region is a major producer of onions, potatoes, and many other vegetables.

“Protecting our best land for growing is not only important for food security for Tamaki Makaurau, but all of Aotearoa New Zealand,” says Warren Maclennan, Manager Regional, North, West and Islands Planning at Auckland Council.

“Our most precious soils are constantly under pressure as we balance increasing demand for housing and urban growth with the protection of highly productive land. Now we have more teeth to safeguard those soils so they can produce our food for decades to come.”

What’s changing?

Up until now, Auckland Council has used planning tools such as the Rural Urban Boundary and rural subdivision rules to protect the region’s remaining high-quality land. This land is currently classified in the Unitary Plan – the city’s planning rulebook – as ‘elite’ or ‘prime’ soils. Auckland’s high-quality land was originally mapped in the 1970s and around 75 per cent of it is still available for farming.   

However, developer interest to date signals that Auckland Council is likely to face ongoing pressure through resource consent applications and private plan change requests for urban and lifestyle development outside the Rural Urban Boundary onto highly productive land in the north and south.

With the introduction of the NPS-HPL, the council now has statutory backing to better protect this elite and prime land from urbanisation, rural lifestyle development, and other inappropriate use and development. The NPS-HPL includes provisions for highly productive land that restricts urban rezoning, avoids both subdivision and rezoning for rural lifestyle living, protects highly productive land from inappropriate use and development, and prioritises its use for land-based primary production.

Implementing the new government direction into the Unitary Plan will be an extensive piece of work. The NPS-HPL requires council to update the Unitary Plan to identify and map areas of highly productive land in the region.

The NPS-HPL states that for the council to map land as highly productive land it must be:

  • Rural zoned land only (Rural Production, Mixed Rural, Rural Coastal zones in the Unitary Plan); and
  • Predominantly shown as Land Use Capability (‘LUC’) 1-3 (elite and prime soils) under the New Zealand Land Resource Inventory (‘NZLRI’); and
  • Form a large and geographically cohesive area.

The council has up to three years to undertake a mapping exercise to determine what areas of Auckland can be classified as highly productive land. Following that, the text of the Unitary Plan will also need to be updated to incorporate the directions in the NPS-HPL. Changes to the Unitary Plan maps and text will go through an extensive Plan Change process with public engagement, submissions, and hearings.

In the interim (until the new HPL maps are added to the Unitary Plan), the NPS-HPL has a transitional definition of highly productive land. For Auckland this is any land zoned Rural Production, Mixed Rural, Rural Coastal in the Unitary Plan that is also LUC 1-3 in the NZLRI (or other more detailed mapping). The provisions of the NPS-HPL apply to any land fitting that description.

The transitional definition of HPL is spatially shown in the Unitary Plan maps. Click on the Legend tab and under ‘Unitary Plan Management Layers’ select the ‘Highly Productive Land’ layer.

For more information, please visit the Ministry for the Environment.