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SNAs left out of biodiversity strategy

SNAs left out of biodiversity strategy

The flip-flopping direction of environmental legislation has required a last-minute change to Ashburton's new biodiversity strategy.

There was no room for Significant Natural Areas (SNA) when the Ashburton District Council adopted the strategy, which is policy aimed at preserving indigenous biodiversity in the district.

The council began working to develop the strategy in early 2023, with the final draft presented for adoption earlier this month.

However, during those 12 months, the political landscape and legislation around biodiversity have been in a state of flux.

The Labour Government introduced of the National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity last year, which required councils to identify land for protection by 2028.

But the current Government has signaled another change is looming, starting with the suspension of the requirement for councils to comply with SNA provisions for three years.

This would allow time for the Government to replace the existing Resource Management Act (RMA) – which gives direction to councils for identifying, protecting, and maintaining indigenous biodiversity.

Council's open spaces manager Ian Soper said the landscape of SNAs had changed from when the strategy was being drafted.

“We’ve written the original document on what we knew at the time.”

The changes from central government are something that over time will continue, he said.

That’s why the intention is for the strategy to be a “living document and will have ongoing updates”, including a review in 12 months.

Before its adoption, councillor Richard Wilson raised concerns about including SNAs when the future direction from the coalition Government remained unclear.

Chief executive Hamish Riach said the council needed to make sure it was happy with the wording and the meaning of the strategy.

The decision was made to leave the strategy on the table while it was amended.

It only took the staff a short time to make the necessary changes, which democracy and engagement general manager Toni Durham said was removing any reference to SNAs from the document.

“Whatever may come out of the central Government's work over the next 12 months, when we do the 12-month review if there is anything we need to put back in we can do so at that stage,” Durham said.

By Jonathan Leask