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The government has tightened rules regulating the use of land that may have been subject to specifically identified hazardous activities and industries.
Resource Management Act changes, which took effect on January 1, require builders and developers across the country to satisfy territorial authorities that the land on which any new activity is proposed (including new homes) is safe for human health.
Some land in New Zealand has been contaminated as a result of industrial, domestic or agricultural activities including:
The onus will be on the landowner to meet all costs of any soil investigation or soil contamination mitigation work.
The tougher regulations are among a series of changes to the Resource Management Act.
They include the introduction of a National Environmental Standard (NES) for assessing and managing contaminated soils for the protection of human health.
The regulations will apply to all new proposals involving soil disturbance, subdivision or where any change in land use is contemplated.
The soil assessments will be required on all land on which any hazardous activity has been carried out, including horticultural and pastoral land that may have been subject to chemical sprays.
Deputy Mayor Ann Court says the new rules are not retrospective and existing use rights are protected.
However, the change does add another level to the bureaucracy surrounding land management.
“This is not something the Far North District Council can choose to ignore - it's a requirement.
“We will attempt to take a commonsense approach but there are specified standards and assessment criteria which will have to be met,” Ms Court says.
Far North Mayor Wayne Brown says requiring home builders to test soil on pastoral and horticultural land seems draconian and will reduce housing affordability.
His council will try to reduce costs for home builders by persuading central government to review the rules.
The council is collating information it has about land in the district where hazardous activities and industries are known to, or likely to, have taken place.
However, there will almost certainly be other land that is potentially contaminated, but which the council has little or no information.
In cases where the land fits the circumstances specified in the new regulations of being, or likely to have been, contaminated, it is up to the land owner to prove otherwise to the council.
People who suspect their land was, or is, contaminated should contact the Northland Regional Council for advice on how to manage the property or mitigate the contamination.
Further information is also available on the Environment Ministry’s website at www.mfe.govt.nz
Government financial assistance may be available in some cases to assist the clean-up of contaminated sites.