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More of New Zealand’s natural treasures could go under the bulldozer if the government adopts an urban development policy as proposed, says Forest & Bird.

The proposed National Policy Statement on Urban Development would allow councils to ignore environmental impacts as they fast track housing and business developments, says Forest & Bird lower North Island regional manager Karen Evans.

“The policy says councils must provide for higher density development in areas of high demand, but it’s silent on the need to safeguard the environment from this development,” says Ms Evans.

Parts of the Resource Management Act could be overridden by the new urban development policy, eroding environmental protections, she says.

“At the moment, regional and district councils must protect important indigenous species and their habitats, our coasts and waterways, and outstanding natural landscapes – that’s required under the Resource Management Act,” Ms Evans says.

“Some of those protections will be lost if this new policy is adopted, because its focus is solely on enabling development.”

Forest & Bird has made a submission on the proposed policy, calling for no reduction in the protection of native biodiversity and the natural environment.

“We want to make sure it’s not possible for councils to allow developers to destroy the habitats of rare native birds and bats, for example,” Ms Evans says.

Forest & Bird also opposes parts of the policy that would allow greenfields to be developed without consideration of the environmental impacts.

“There’s clearly an urgent need for more housing in some areas to meet the housing crisis, but there’s also an urgent need to protect rare wildlife and to strengthen the natural environment, so it can help absorb the impacts of the climate crisis,” Ms Evans says.

If environmental protections are included, the government’s new development policy could have benefits, she says. It could promote carefully planned housing and business development that includes green spaces for both people and native species.

“It would be great to get a policy that supports housing intensification in places where commuting distances will be short and public transport is available, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions,” Ms Evans says.

“Forest & Bird also supports removing restrictions on upward growth in some areas to allow for housing intensification.”

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