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Friends of Belmont Regional Park: Letter To Swain

PRESS RELEASE ;
From ; Friends of Belmont Regional Park ( Inc.)
27th April 2005

OPEN LETTER TO HON.PAUL SWAIN, MINISTER
OF STATE OWNED ENTERPRISES.

You will be meeting early May with other Ministers, councillors from Greater Wellington Regional and Hutt and Porirua city and the CEO, Landcorp Farming Ltd. You will be discussing the proposed sale, to private interests, of the Waitangirua farm which forms one third of the Belmont Regional Park. During this meeting you will be presented with advice from officials, each with a particular perspective. The meeting will be held in secret, unlike the open and public process of the original land allocation in 1987.

The Friends consider that you will receive little advice representative of the general public’s opinion, nor of that of the many thousands who use the park annually.

We have heard also, Minister that you have taken the stance that any possible sale of Waitangirua is a commercial decision of the Landcorp Board of Directors and that you are not prepared to interfere with such activities

But you are the major shareholder, on behalf of the people of New Zealand, of the quasi-independent company that is Landcorp Farming Ltd. In every private company the directors take very real note of the opinions of their shareholders, particularly majority ones. The Friends, as strongly as possible, urge you on behalf of the true shareholders, to involve yourself in this matter towards the better permanent public good and away from the transient monetary gain of such a sale.

We are therefore writing to you, Minister, to inform you of certain aspects of the sale which we consider should be part of any decision that you make :

1 ] When Waitangirua was allocated to Landcorp in 1987, it included clear provisions that the farm was an important component of the new Belmont Regional Park.

2 ] For nearly 20 years, Landcorp has run Waitangirua as a holding operation and put only a very low level of capital investment into it as a farming property. We base this on observation as Landcorp’s secrecy makes it impossible to determine the actual balance sheets for this separate property

3 ] Under the State-owned Enterprises Act , Landcorp was charged, in addition to making a profit for the government, to also give equal weight in management to their environmental and social responsibilities. Landcorp is specifically required to consult with nearby communities as to its actions on environmental and recreational matters. The Friends think that it is crucial for you to realize, as Minister , that at no time over the past 18 years, has Landcorp carried out any such consultation, with regard to Waitangirua farm, in an effective way. Additionally,by repeated lack of attention to some of the land under conservation covenant, especially that near Cannons Creek in Porirua, Landcorp has failed in a major part of its mandate.

4 ] The original purchase agreement with the Government required Landcorp to give the first opportunity to purchase to the Greater Wellington Regional Council, the managing authority for the park as a whole. It is absolutely clear, Minister, that at the time the park was established, it was Government intent that Waitangirua should always remain a farming property within the park, and that the public should always have access to this land for recreation. The Friends have searched all available government documents and we can find no indication anywhere of any Government intent that the farm could be disposed of for any other purpose than farming and that such farming would continue to remain part of the park activities.

Because of the above, the Friends of Belmont Regional Park trust, Minister, that you will consider during your decision process that the full commercial value of the Waitangirua farm should be discounted by consideration of its large non-monetary values being conservation and recreation land as part of the park.

5 ] The Belmont Regional Park, and its major component, the Waitangirua farm form the “green space “ background to the cities of Lower Hutt and Porirua. Those municipality’s district plans recognize the importance of the hills as the scenic background to their suburbs and as part of the essential character of their city’s environment.

As this peri-urban area diminishes with expanding housing and other developments, the market value of that which remains dramatically increases. Such lands also increase in value, perhaps even more so, as recreational and conservation areas for the quiet and peace of suburban dwellers. But the “market” cannot deal with such very real, yet non-monetary, values of such land.

For this reason, Minister, we particularly draw your attention to recent reports from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment which state that only wise government intervention can save such iconic lands from the pressures of urban sprawl. We sincerely hope, Minister, that you will wisely consider this aspect points when reaching your decisions on the sale.

6 ] There are precedents, Minister, for central Government playing a role in transferring lands from SOE’s for recreational and conservation purposes ( one example is the transfer of Timberlands property in Westland ) and for acting as an involved party in joint efforts ( an example is Kaikoura island Auckland ) There has never yet been any central Government involvement in securing farming recreational and conservation lands such as Waitangirua from an SOE in the Wellington/Hutt/Porirua area.

7 ] You will be aware , Minister, of private discussions which have taken place between GWRC and Landcorp where it has been proposed that Waitangirua farm be split up into different sections and sold to different buyers. This includes the possibility of land developers establishing housing and life-style blocks on the open hills of the park. Please understand, sir, that although this may be superficially attractive as an argument to save some of the recreational values , it will still result in the gross dismemberment of the park. Such splitting would prevent the remainder from being farmed economically—a pre-condition for retaining the existing park’s character. The whole farm is a part of the Belmont Regional Park. Even though different sections have differing values, the entity which is Waitangirua is absolutely essential to preserve the values of the park as it is today. Because public input has been excluded from these discussions, the Friends have little confidence that these aspects have been included.

9 ] Over 12,000 people, Minister, during a very short period of seven weeks signed a petition asking for Waitangirua farm to be placed into public ownership. THEY DO NOT WANT THIS LAND TO BE SOLD TO PRIVATE INTERESTS. The Friends can assure you, Minister , that this is just the “tip of the iceberg” of the strength of public opinion about this matter. As the election approaches, this public will be watching very carefully the government’s decisions over the final disposition of the Waitangirua farm.

Yours sincerely,

for & on behalf of the Friends of Belmont Regional Park (Inc.)
Richard Sadleir, Ph.D., Convenor.


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