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Board Calls For Immediate Moratorium

MEDIA RELEASE

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Board Calls For Immediate Moratorium On High Country Land Reform

The land reform of high country pastoral leases should be halted immediately, until an investigation is completed by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment says the Canterbury-Aoraki Conservation Board (CACB).

The Board advises the Minister, NZ Conservation Authority and the Department of Conservation in Canterbury on conservation issues and has representatives from throughout the Conservancy.

The Board passed a unanimous resolution calling for a moratorium on tenure review of the high country at its recent meeting in Christchurch and is writing to the Minister of Lands, David Parker, expressing its concerns. This follows continuing criticism that the privatization of hundreds of thousands of hectares by high country farmers is not meeting the Crown Pastoral Land Act (1998) or recent government objectives.

Tenure review refers to high country land reform which covers 20% of the South Island (2.4 million hectares), whereby 304 lessees can voluntarily opt into a process to freehold a proportion of their Crown lease. It is controlled by Land Information New Zealand (LINZ); DOC advises LINZ on conservation and related issues.

The Board echoes criticism recently expressed by the Regional Council, Environment Canterbury, and other environmental groups concerning the sale of huge swathes of the high country. For the last three or four years the CACB has advised the lead agency LINZ, DOC and the Government that high country land reform has serious deficiencies, that the public interest and conservation is being ‘sold short’ in the review process.

The Board therefore welcomes the investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, which it believes is long overdue.

“This is an issue of prime concern because land reform of the high country involves hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Crown land, which is now being privatised, “says Chairman Alan Jolliffe.

“We’ve tried to voice our concerns to the powers that be and are frustrated by the responses we’ve had. What worries us is that there’s a fog of ignorance about what’s going on. It’s disposing of the crown jewels of the South Island by stealth,” he says.

Mr Jolliffe says the Board fully supports recent public criticism of the freeholding of Richmond Station on the edge of Lake Tekapo, but this is just one of a number of examples.

The Richmond concerns have focused on the future possible subdivision of lakeside freehold land, despite the District Plan and the RMA. There are also real risks to unique high country landscapes which have been designated in Regional and District Plans, the loss of high country biodiversity, and inadequate access to public conservation land on the tops. District plans are woefully inadequate to deal with the mass privatization of Crown land.

“Do New Zealanders and the tourist industry want lifestyle blocks and commercial development all along the edge of Lake Tekapo and other high country lakes? We don’t think they do, but this is what could well happen over the next two decades with the freeholding of this prime real estate.”

The Board supports the analysis by Lincoln University’s Dr Ann Brower that the public’s economic interests and development rights in Crown leases are inadequately represented by LINZ and the Tenure Review process. Dr Brower’s research (2005) reveals that 58% of land so far has gone to a small number of farmers, and they have also been paid at least $15.5 million in ‘equalisation’ by the Government for surrendering higher altitude land to DOC. This is because the farmers’ interests are supposedly more valuable than the Crown’s (2005). Farmers pay an average rental of $6000 per annum or .86 cents a hectare.

Meanwhile the market value of high country land has risen 180% in the last decade, partly because of the attraction of free-holding through this reform.

“An immediate moratorium is necessary because of widespread mistrust and deficiencies in a process that threatens this unique cultural and spiritual landscape,” says Mr Jolliffe.

“Boards in the South Island have not received any analysis of Tenure Review (other than Dr Brower’s research) or whether it is meeting the requirements of the Crown Pastoral Land Act, or supplementary government objectives.”

The Board has outlined its concerns in more detail in a recent letter to the PCE which has been copied to the New Zealand Conservation Authority and relevant Ministers.

ENDS

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