Jade River: A History of the MahurangiRonald H Locker
First published 2001. Published online 2014–. This online edition is a work in progress…
Pages 368–369in printed edition
Restoration beyond the Mahurangi regional parkland
Mahurangi is unusually well endowed with caring residents. Some are native to the area, some have chosen it as a congenial place and community in which to live and work, others can imagine no better place to spend years of retirement. They have collectivised their concerns for their chosen environment in a number of groups. Public meetings on environmental issues tend to be well attended.
From meetings of Mahurangi Action, the publishers of this book, I have the impression the preservation of the quality of the waterway is a dominant concern. While I sympathise, I beg to differ in terms of priorities. The waterways should be constantly monitored, but the outstanding threats are terrestrial. Marine systems are resilient and damage often reversible. Not so on the land. Scenery is highly vulnerable, and damage is usually irreparable within life spans. My perception of the two greatest issues are as follows:—
Top of my ratings is the necessity to protect the landscape, which is, after all, the essence of the place. Planning here is basically a zoning exercise, defining what sorts of activities are acceptable or not in various areas. There are many classes and subclasses of rural zoning. Their intent is to keep rural land in production, to limit residential development, or see that it is done in a controlled manner. But the rules are not carved in stone. Zonings are continually being changed on application, individual dispensations are often granted, and new devices emerge for circumventing original intent. If 80% of a lot has indigenous vegetative coveras published 2001: plot is covered in bush, it may be hived off from a farm as a bush lotas published 2001: “bush section”. The bush need only be mānuka, and the assessment of percentage cover is none too strict.
The wise old law of the Queen’s chain is an attempt to regain the shoreline for the public. It requires that when rural land, most of which is owned to mean high springs, is subdivided, a littoral strip one chain wide be forfeited to the Crown. It has done much for public access to the shore. A new trend is towards condominiums. The title is shared but remains intact. What is in reality a subdivision is technically not so. With riparian land, the Queen, and you and I, miss out on the chain.
The reasons for the accelerating conversion of farmland to residential sections are manifold. A rising demand for “lifestyle” land in desirable places brings pressure on property holders, whose rates unfortunately rise with valuers’ perceptions of the future. The lucrative sale of a section or two may help with rates and perhaps a mortgage. Councils face rising demands for sewage, water and rubbish dumps. The planning for these major works, and meeting the bill tend to preoccupy them. Scenery is well down the listas published 2001: line. Every new residential section brings a welcome rise in rate yield. Councillors are often farmers with a highly developed sense of private property and owners’ rights to do what they wish. Others are local businesspeople with a distinct view on what is “progress”.
I do not blame the professional planners, who must work, often with frustration, within the framework imposed on them. I have found them intelligent and sensitive people. In the end it is the councillors who make the decisions on individual cases.
The Resource Management Act, our most massive and complex legislation yet, has been felt in local government. Regional and district plans have been rewritten to incorporate its requirements. Preservation of environments, including scenery is a dominant one.
Second in my ratings is the danger of adventitious plants—weeds, if you prefer—in reserves and privately-owned wild places. The ginger, cotoneaster, jasmine, periwinkle, tradescantia, loquats, privet, asparagus fern, and monkey apples provide a highly mobile bird population with food, bearing seeds to be scattered over the landscape. Gorse and thistles and ragwort attract attention and control as pasture weeds. Opossums get some control largely because they infect dairy cows. But these insidious weeds are barely noticed, let alone controlled until it is too late. Anyone who doubts the serious nature of the threat should walk in the Waiheke bushlands that have been completely taken over by asparagus fern, or closer at hand see the periwinkle in Falls Road River Esplanade Reserveas published 2001: Falls Reserve, Warkworth.