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Published: 2003-03-27 00:00:00

Environment Waikato is looking at whether it should do more to protect special places around the Region.

Its Draft Annual Plan, released this week, outlines a proposal to contribute to the long-term sustainability of the Region’s natural heritage through partnerships with local authorities, central government, private landowners and the public. It wants to know what the public thinks about the issue, and whether ratepayers are prepared to fund the additional cost.

Deputy Chairman Jenni Vernon said the policy could be used to provide habitat for native animals and plants, ensure public access to beaches, lakes, rivers, wetlands and native bush, or safeguard natural heritage for future generations.

“The native bush, natural coasts and public open spaces of our Region are a valuable community asset. We need to reach an understanding with our community about what they want to do about protecting these natural heritage areas and the extent to which these areas should be available for the enjoyment of future generations.

She said many of Environment Waikato’s programmes helped protect special places or provide public access. The Environmental Initiatives Fund had helped purchase wetland habitat at the Miranda Shorebird Centre and the Council’s Key Ecological Sites programme helped private landowners care for significant patches of bush.

Cr Vernon said the policy review was in line with the Sustainable Development “Programme of Action” adopted by Government this year.

“Environment Waikato shares the Government’s commitment to sustainable development, which includes protecting our natural heritage values. The Government’s Programme of Action notes that “valuable ecosystems and sites may be irreversibly degraded by development” unless proactive strategies for protection are developed.

She said that although special places would be protected and generally open to the public, Environment Waikato was not considering owning and operating a regional park system, such as in the Auckland Region.

Any final policy would take into account community priorities, funding implications and interest from other agencies. Proposals would require a high degree of public support and local leadership, be of Regional or national significance and the Regional community would need to benefit from access to, or protection of the site.

Other considerations could include that the opportunity to protect the land and associated values might be lost without Council involvement, and if there were a number of partners prepared to contribute to the project. Spending on such projects would vary from year to year.

The Council is looking for input from Regional ratepayers before developing any formal policy, as doing more work in the area would require a larger ratepayer contribution. The Plan asks for feedback on an annual charge of between $3 and $5 per rateable property, which would raise between $500,000 and $850,000.

Environment Waikato is currently considering two requests for support made in submissions on last year’s Annual Plan - Maungatautari Ecological Island project near Cambridge and the proposed Te Kouma Park, south of Coromandel.