Protecting Productive Land
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Protecting Productive Land

Posted: 12 December 2022

Following the Our Land 2018 joint report from the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ, as well as a certain amount of political pressure, the government gazetted the National Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land (NPS-HPL) on 19 September 2022.

New policy statement: NPS-HPL

The NPS-HPL came into effect on 17 October 2022 (the commencement date) and requires every regional council to map as highly productive land any land in its region that is:

  • In a general rural zone or rural production zone
  • Predominantly Land Use Capability (LUC) 1, 2 or 3 land, and
  • Forms a large and geographically cohesive area.

This mapping must take place within three years from the commencement date.

Protection of urban expansion on highly productive land

The Our Land 2018 report found that, amongst other things:

‘Urban expansion is reducing the availability of some of our most versatile productive land.  Studies based on changes in land cover indicate that between 1990 and 2008, 29 percent of new urban areas were on some of our most versatile land. Fragmentation can also be a pressure on urban fringes: in 2013, lifestyle blocks occupied 10 percent of New Zealand’s most versatile land. This may block future options for agricultural production.’

Accordingly, the intent of the NPS-HPL is to protect highly productive land for use in land-based primary production, both now and for future generations.

It does this by requiring the mapping of highly productive land and putting significant restrictions on the ability of local authorities to zone this land for subdivision, urban development or rural lifestyle purposes.

LUC 1, 2 or 3 land is arable land that is suitable for cropping, viticulture, berry fruit, pastoralism, tree crops and forestry. LUC class 1 has minimal limitations and is highly suitable for those uses whereas LUC class 3 has moderate limitations for those uses. 

Regional councils may also map land that is not LUC 1, 2 or 3 land as highly productive if the land is, or has, the potential to be highly productive for land-based primary production in that region having regard to a variety of factors. 


There are, as always, some exceptions: to the NPS-HPL. These are:

  • Land that, if already identified for future urban development, must not be mapped as highly productive land
  • Certain territorial authorities may allow urban rezoning of highly productive land if:
  • Urban rezoning is required to provide sufficient development capacity to meet demand for housing or business to give effect to a National Policy Statement on Urban Development 2020
  • There are no other reasonable, practical or feasible options providing at least sufficient development capacity within the same locality and market while achieving a well-functioning urban environment, and
  • The environmental, social, cultural and economic effects of benefits of rezoning outweigh the long term environmental, social, cultural and any economic costs associated with the loss of highly productive land for land-based primary production, taking into account both tangible and intangible values.

There are further prescribed matters that the territorial authority must consider when making its decisions on whether or not to rezone highly productive land. There are also similar restrictions in relation to the subdivision of highly productive land and zoning highly productive land for rural lifestyle purposes. Territorial authorities are required to avoid ‘inappropriate use or development of highly productive land that is not land based primary production.’   

On a practical level

It will be interesting to see the practical effect of the NPS-HPL around the country. Many of our urban areas are built on highly productive land, for obvious historical reasons. Those areas that spring to mind are the productive vegetable growing areas of Pukekohe and the Horowhenua, and the apple and wine growing regions of Hawke’s Bay, Marlborough and Nelson. Some urban areas in this country have little room for expansion other than on highly productive land.  

The rural community will welcome the NPS-NPL but it will present difficulties for town planners to figure out how to deal with the much-publicised need for further housing. Allowing higher destiny development in district plans may be one solution to these problems. 

Read the full issue here

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Protecting Productive Land