Building thriving, sustainable new communities, and protecting the best land for our food. Can we do both?

01 April 2020

Photo by Viktor Kern on Unsplash

Update: Thanks to everyone who provided feedback on this important issue. We're looking at every response we received now, and we'll share the conclusions very soon.

If homes, or other buildings, are constructed on Aotearoa’s most productive soil, land that can then no longer provide vegetables for New Zealanders, can they be called green and sustainable?

If prime agricultural land has already been zoned for development, should we be doing all we can to ensure that the buildings and communities are as healthy and green as possible, given that they’re going to be built anyway? What if buildings are already on the site?

Can you build healthy and sustainable communities if they’re constructed on prime agricultural land? And is all prime land of equal value? And is all prime land of equal value? And what is the definition of prime agricultural land?

Can we balance the need for new homes with the loss of prime soils? And how should we do that? Especially in Auckland, where a large part of Aotearoa’s prime soils lie, and with some reports suggesting 66 percent of the area’s future urban zoned land is on elite or prime soils?

These are some of the questions we’ve been grappling with here at the Green Building Council recently.

Our conclusion right now: It’s complicated.

We’re well aware that there are a host of important issues to consider. And it’s important to be thoughtful, and to listen.

So we’d welcome your feedback.

The prime soils – the best, most productive land – provide not only food, but also jobs and economic benefits.

And we know Aotearoa needs many new homes for our people, located in the right places, with the right infrastructure.

Right now, to achieve a Green Star rating, any project cannot be sited on prime agricultural land.

Is this the right approach? Should we keep this requirement, and not allow the use of Green Star on prime agricultural land?

With the vital need for more homes, and the building of large new communities in places like south Auckland, should we scrap the requirement and allow all developments on prime agricultural land to use Green Star?

Or should we maybe not allow Green Star on the most highly productive land, designated as Class 1 in the Land-Use Capability system, but allow productive land in Classes 2, 3 and 4 as long as the land is already zoned for development? In this case, should Green Star also insist on some additional criteria? And what should that criteria be?

Is the LUC classification the best way to identify prime agricultural land? If not what is a better way? If a council has already reviewed the land and determined it is acceptable for development, is that enough?

Thanks again to everyone who provided feedback. Everyone who wants our homes, buildings and communities to be healthy places for healthier, happier New Zealanders is an important stakeholder in verification schemes like Green Star. We'll share the conclusions on this very soon.