“Exposure draft submission highlights heritage” Oculus article by Elizabeth Pishief

The following is the text of an article by Elizabeth Pishief that appeared in Oculus (September 2021).

I was part of a working group of HPA and ICOMOS New Zealand members that prepared a joint submission to the Environment Committee Inquiry on the ‘exposure draft’ of the Natural and Built Environments Bill (NBE Bill) and the associated parliamentary paper.

This bill is intended to replace the Resource Management Act 1991, which no longer adequately protects the natural or cultural environment while allowing for appropriate development.

We collectively believe cultural  heritage in its many forms (eg, archaeological sites, cultural  landscapes, buildings, objects, wāhi tapū, and wāhi tūpuna places) provides an understanding of New Zealand’s development, and the sense of place and connection between people and their environment that contribute to individual and national wellbeing.  We think that replacing ‘historic heritage’ with the  term ‘cultural heritage’  better reflects the  breadth of our current  and evolving heritage  including intangible  heritage such as sacred mountains and recent built heritage like post-war/early modernist buildings. It is crucial Parliament hears how ordinary people and communities value cultural heritage.

We focused on parts of the draft with implications for the effective management and protection of New  Zealand’s cultural heritage. 

We requested additions and improvements to definitions, including using the definition of ‘cultural landscape’ in the ICOMOS NZ Charter which:
Means an area possessing cultural heritage value arising from the relationships between people and the environment. Cultural landscapes may have been designed, such as gardens, or may have evolved from human settlement and land use over time, resulting in a diversity of distinctive landscapes in different areas.
Associative cultural landscapes, such as sacred mountains, may lack tangible cultural elements but may have strong intangible cultural or spiritual associations.

We said sustainability is the cornerstone of modern heritage protection and management practice, and promotes ongoing repairs, maintenance and adaptive reuse of buildings.

We see heritage protection as a vital element in reducing the carbon footprint of our built environment – not only more environmentally sustainable but also more economically, socially and culturally sustainable. 

The construction and demolition industry is one of the largest waste producing industries in New Zealand and that waste may represent 50% of all waste generated in the country. 

We raised the lack of synchronisation and direction between laws and organisations that manage heritage, eg, HNZPT lists places but cannot protect them; only local councils can do so by scheduling heritage places on their District Plans. 

The Building Act 2004 allows stand-alone buildings under three storeys to be demolished without a building consent, while the HNZPT Act makes it a criminal offence to destroy a building built before 1900 without an authority from HNZPT. It is equally confusing that archaeological sites, often wāhi tapū or wāhi taonga, are managed by HNZPT, yet HNZPT has no authority over other forms of heritage, managed by local authorities.

Our main points to the select committee were:
• we are all kaitiaki of our cultural heritage
• by protecting cultural heritage, we contribute to protecting the environment of our ancestors and for our descendants
• cultural heritage assists with meeting climate change goals by retaining significant built heritage rather than sending it to landfills
• to include cultural heritage in Clause 13(1) as a topic the National Planning Framework (NPF) must include
• a NPF is needed to direct cultural heritage outcomes
• for the government to review and bring together existing and new national planning directives to form a coherent suite of national standards.

The review of the current RMA is an opportunity to develop world-leading environmental legislation that protects our natural environment and cultural heritage that together contribute to our national cultural identity.

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