An Auckland Council decision to replace rates remission on privately-owned conservation land with a grants system is being challenged by the QEII National Trust (QEII), a charitable trust that works with landowners to protect natural heritage sites with covenants.
The trust believes that having to apply for a grant, rather than receiving automatic rates remission, may put people off setting aside land for covenants, which permanently protect the land. There are currently 131 registered open space covenants in Rodney, covering more than 3600 hectares.
QEII chief executive Mike Jebson said covenants offered more protection than a national park and landowners who used them to conserve their land deserved continued automatic rates remission, as they had effectively given away their use and development rights in the public interest.
“We’re really disappointed in this decision and we’re currently considering all options, including legal action,” he said.
Council’s financial policy manager, Andrew Duncan, said the changes had been brought in because rates remission policies had previously been uneven throughout Auckland, ranging from 100 per cent for QEII covenanted land in some areas, including Rodney, down to 10 per cent in others.
He said all properties currently receiving a rates remission for natural heritage would continue to receive the same level of financial support for three years, in the form of a grant credited to their rate account. After that, a $200,000 regional grants scheme would come in to play, with Council officers pledging to work with QEII on options for its development.
However, Mike Jebson said that while the trust appreciated Council’s commitment to work with them, the best approach to encourage protection of private land was to give full rates remission on all QEII covenants, as well as targeted grants for habitat protection and conservation.
“We believe Auckland Council has incorrectly interpreted the law, as QEII covenanted land is automatically non-rateable under the Local Government (Rating) Act 2002, and the Council charging rates on land protected with the QEII National Trust is contrary to that Act,” he said. “We regret that
Council ignored the many submissions it received seeking that it maintain rates remission and extends it to all QEII covenanted areas in their region.”
Councillor Greg Sayers agreed, saying the options developed by Council should include both rates remission and grants or, at the very least, that full rates remission should be maintained.
“Landowners with covenants on their land make a significant contribution to conservation by protecting biodiversity and conservation, and Council should be acknowledging that,” he said.