Standing in the garden where she grew up, surrounded by native bushes with torrential rain pouring through the canopy to trickle down her bangs and down her jacket, Jane Hurley looks around her in despair.
Rather than fond memories and a sense of tranquility, this patch of greenery in the leafy Wellington suburb of Khandallah represents an extremely difficult decision; this property is his mother’s only financial asset, the key to comfort in old age. But when it comes time to sell, new environmental protection rules mean it could fetch far less than it’s worth.
Across the country, councils have been tasked with identifying and protecting areas with important areas of native biodiversity in accordance with the Resource Management Act 1991, known as Important Natural Areas (SNA). Affected landowners will need to seek permission to make changes, whether it’s building a house or pulling out a shrub.
Residents expect property values to fall; who wants a section they can’t edit? “My mother and I would like our land protected as bushland in perpetuity,” Hurley said. “But don’t destroy the value of my mother’s main financial asset to do so.”
* Frustrated landowners cutting down trees to avoid environmental protection status
* Gray area for significant natural areas on the west coast
* ‘We’re stuck’: West Coast leaders reflect on challenges of significant natural areas
A Darroch report estimates that the loss in value of residential land without development potential would be less than 5%. But for large residential blocks with potential for subdivision or development, this could go up to 30%.
To avoid the restrictions before they take effect, some landowners are cutting down trees and clearing native bushes they previously cherished and cared for. Hurley had seen his mother’s neighbors seize their properties with chainsaws.
His parents bought the house 60 years ago and spent 25 years paying off the mortgage. Most of the section would be covered by the proposed SNA, including non-native trees such as camellia, rhododendron, flower beds, an old vegetable patch and a concrete path. Modifying this path to improve accessibility, if required by its mother, would be limited.
The council’s communication “reeks of bad faith”, she said. The first letter telling residents about their “garden taonga” came last year, and Hurley recalled being thrilled with the news.
It wasn’t until a neighbor called and explained that it could significantly reduce the price of their home that she realized it was removing her mother’s safety net. “It’s his only financial asset,” she said. “It annihilates the value of the section.”
The stretch is a 7 minute walk from the train station and a 10 minute walk from the bus station to town and shops. Just seven minutes down the road, six-story apartment buildings are on the cards.
Wellington City Councilor Diane Calvert said the SNA was at odds with housing intensification. “On the one hand we say that we want to densify, but here we don’t say these areas, we can’t touch them.”
She wondered if the grief of these residents was worth it – the council should focus on the land it already owned. “The whole city benefits, but we ask [these landowners] pay the price. »
Council planning officer Liam Hodgetts said in late April that community engagement began in 2019 and the council “deliberately took this intensive approach to engagement because we knew there was a risk potential for people to move in to remove ANS while it was still legal to do so then.As a result we have not seen a rush to remove vegetation.
Residents have vehemently rejected the idea that there has been adequate engagement, and Councilor Calvert agrees. “We did not present the information clearly.”
Hurley recalled that the real situation only became apparent when the town hall meetings began. She made a submission to the board, talked about it in a meeting, and ‘the next thing we hear, the board is trying to get the whole thing through immediately calling on the minister to fast-track the plan, so it won’t be not faced all the troublesome legal cases”.
“It was only Mayor Andy Foster’s veto that put an end to this scheme.”
Council documents show the topic is back on the table for Thursday’s meeting, with a recommendation “based on additional legal advice” to remove ANS from the list of items to be dealt with expeditiously.
The proposed SNA rules would come into effect once included in the proposed district plan, which is expected to be notified later this year, Hodgetts said.
Meanwhile, Hurley worries about the future. She thinks the fairest thing would be for the council to negotiate a fair price for the land and make sure people are compensated.
“All we want is to be able to charge the fair market price for the property when and if we need to sell it.”