è Threats to the character and quality of the coastal environment as a result of land use and resource development, and public access for recreation activities.
The coastal environment in Westland is a significant resource forming the western boundary of the District. The elongated nature of the District means that the coast has a strong influence on the overall character and amenities of Westland. At the widest point the distance between the coast and mountains is only just over 50 km.
Due to the importance of coastal areas throughout the country, a number of bodies all have a role to play in its management. The Minister of Conservation has prepared the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 1994 identifying national policies. The Regional Council in addition to the Regional Policy Statement may prepare a Coastal Plan. The Regional Council and Department of Conservation have management responsibilities for activities below mean high water springs (MHWS), and the District Council above MHWS in addition to a responsibility to control the effects of activities which impact on coastal waters.
A number of important wetlands of high to moderate wildlife and ecological value are found along Westland's coast. Okarito Lagoon for example is considered to be the most important and largest estuarine wetland on the West Coast.
Other significant natural values in the coastal zone above Mean High Water Springs include a small number of dune systems with more or less intact indigenous vegetation communities, coastal forest, rocky coastlines, rock stacks and the Open Bay islands where seals and seabirds breed and roost.
Natural processes are at work along the Westland coast and most areas are in a phase of active erosion. The main hazard areas occur where the erosion threatens populated areas, such as at Okarito and Hokitika. These issues are dealt with specifically in Section 3.9 - The Built Resource. Because there is a relative lack of understanding about coastal processes and the effects of activities on coastal processes, a precautionary approach should generally be adopted towards proposed activities.
Early coastal settlements have established and grown, at for example Hokitika and Jackson Bay/Okahu. Several areas of coastline in Westland have sites of archaeological and cultural importance relating to early settlers, both Maori and European. The coastal environment is also an important source of mahinga kai for local Maori where a number of traditional food gathering sites and mahinga kai are still used.
The coastal environment is an important tourist asset and also offers a range of recreational opportunities including boating, walking and sightseeing. The State Highway is an important resource as it enables access to a number of coastal areas. Access to the coastline is currently good as a large proportion of land fronting the sea is held by the Department of Conservation. Consequently limited pressure is expected to occur for increased coastal access in the future.
It is considered that there is sufficient provision for living in a coastal environment within the existing settlements, and proposals for further settlements are unlikely to receive Council support. Similarly, because of the sensitivity of the coast, especially in unmodified locations, likely effects of any activity will need to be carefully considered.
3.12.1 To preserve the natural character and unique qualities of the coastal environment by taking into account the effects of subdivision, use or development on these values.
è Allows for a range of management options to be utilised in the coastal environment including opportunities for use and development subject to specified environmental constraints, including impact on character. Such an approach is consistent with the concept of sustainable management as defined in the Act.
è Allows for development of policies and rules within the Plan which give effect to the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement.
è Recognises the contribution of the coastal environment to the overall character and landscape of Westland, and its status as an important tourist and visitor asset.