Response to Forest & Bird article

Porirua City Council wishes to correct numerous factual errors in the Forest & Bird opinion piece, ‘Nature will be the loser in unfair hearing on Plimmerton Farm development’, that appeared in the Dominion Post and on Stuff on 10 October. 

Below is a list of the key points, with the longer explanation below this:

 

  • The MoU is an administrative document and doesn’t limit the Council’s statutory functions or regulatory powers under the Resource Management Act. It doesn’t commit ratepayer money to the Plan Change as stated in the opinion piece.
  • The hearing panel, comprising five highly experienced and qualified commissioners, is entirely independent. The panel is not obliged to accept PCC’s recommendations and has the scope and powers to reach its own conclusions.  The panel will make a recommendation to the Minister for the Environment who will ultimately make the decision on the Plan Change.
  • The witnesses engaged by the Council are highly experienced and completely independent. They have confirmed that their reports and evidence have been prepared in accordance with the Environment Court’s code of conduct for expert witnesses. They cannot act as advocates for a particular position.
  • Porirua’s Proposed District Plan has identified 222 Significant Natural Areas that will be protected across the city.
  • Over 33 per cent of the site has been identified as Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) or biodiversity offset areas that will benefit from legal protection and ongoing restoration and management.
  • The engagement process has been robust, resulting in 138 submissions with many submitters appearing this week during the hearings. All submissions are considered by the experts and hearing panel.



Housing Need

Plan Change 18 is a key part of PCC’s response to the housing crisis and could provide up to 2000 much-needed homes. Council is required by the recent National Policy Statement on Urban Development to provide sufficient housing capacity to meet short, medium and long-term demand. Plimmerton Farm is also part of the Northern Growth Area, which has been identified as a future growth area for Porirua since 2009.

Approach to Significant Natural Areas, Biodiversity Offsetting and Restoration Areas and Sensitive Receiving Waters

The Plan Change’s approach is to develop within the ecological capacity of the site, identifying areas suitable for development along with areas that need to be protected.   Over 33% of the site (128 hectares) has been identified as Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) and Biodiversity Offsetting and Restoration Areas (BORAs) that will benefit from legal protection and ongoing restoration and management including pest control. Until the plan change, there was no legal protection for these areas.

A very small area of SNA may be affected by essential roading and other infrastructure to enable development. The effects will be minimised as much as possible, and any unavoidable effects will be offset by the establishment of native planting in biodiversity restoration areas.

Development will proceed based on water sensitive design principles and will achieve hydrological neutrality (no net increase in stormwater runoff).  The quantity and quality of stormwater runoff will also be carefully managed to protect receiving waters within and beyond the site, including Taupō Swamp, Taupō Stream, Kakaho Stream and Te Awarua-O-Porirua Harbour. Development affecting wetlands is also subject to the provisions of the Natural Resources Plan for the Wellington Region and the National Environmental Standard for Freshwater, both administered by the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

Identification of Significant Natural Areas in the Proposed District Plan

The Proposed Porirua District Plan was notified in August 2020 and comprehensively identifies SNAs throughout Porirua in accordance with regional and national requirements. Two hundred and twenty-two SNAs have been identified covering a total of 3,282 hectares (approximately 17% of Porirua’s land area). The rules relating to SNAs across the District (including Plimmerton Farm) have immediate legal effect, meaning all SNAs benefit from protection and management of effects.

 

Memorandum of Understanding between PCC and PDL

The MoU is an administrative document that does not limit the Council’s statutory functions or regulatory powers under the Resource Management Act 1991. The MOU documents the mutually agreed position between the Council and PDL to create a viable plan change that is consistent with both parties’ aspirations.

PCC has not sought to conceal the existence of the MOU and has been transparent about working collaboratively with PDL from the outset - the Plan Change is Council-initiated and has been prepared in partnership with PDL. This arrangement is typical for a plan change of this scale.  This approach was well documented in Council’s application to the Minster for the Environment to use the Streamlined Planning Process, and also made clear through the collaborative and well publicised approach to community and stakeholder engagement.

In Council’s view, the collaboration with PDL has been highly successful in providing detailed, high quality information about the attributes and constraints of the site to a level that Council could not have achieved working alone. The resulting planning framework to manage the site’s development and protection is state of the art.

Council’s engagement of experts

Although some of the Council’s expert witnesses were previously engaged by PDL, they are now independent expert witnesses for the Council assisting the Independent Hearing Panel (IHP) in making its recommendations on the Plan Change. All are independent and highly experienced experts who have confirmed that their reports and evidence have been prepared in accordance with the Environment Court’s Code of Conduct for Expert Witnesses. This requires that expert witnesses have an overriding duty to impartially assist the IHP and cannot act as advocates for a particular position.

PCC’s experts have carefully and objectively considered the submissions and evidence of all parties, and have recommended amendments to many aspects of the Plan Change as a result without any influence from PDL.

Independence of the hearing panel and process

The Plan Change has been notified in accordance with the Minister for the Environment’s direction, and has been open to members of the public and stakeholders to participate and make submissions. These submissions will be considered by an IHP comprising five highly experienced, qualified commissioners appointed in accordance with the Minister’s Direction. PDL were not in any way involved in the appointment of the Panel. The Panel is not obliged to accept PCC’s recommendations and has the scope and powers to reach its own conclusions.  The Panel will make a recommendation to the Minister for the Environment who will ultimately make the decision on the Plan Change.