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High Country Farmers May Say 'No' To The Crown

11 March 2005

High Country Farmers May Say 'No' To The Crown

High country farmers have asked their association to investigate whether they should suspend their tenure review negotiations until an independent review of their leases has been completed.

High Country Accord co-chair Ben Todhunter says farmers believe they are being unfairly manipulated by a government which is hell-bent on converting most South Island tussock country into 22 parks.

"The land involved is in Crown Pastoral Leases which, from a legal and market value point of view, are so close to being freehold it's not funny.

"It's hard to know whether government ministers are unaware of this, or whether they are cynically running a disinformation campaign.

"It is only reasonable for farmers to seek a fair price for their interest in the land or if they wish, to retain their lease. Anyone being asked to relinquish their property to the Crown would do the same."

He says the lessee's financial interest in most high country properties ranges from 70-80 per cent. Valuations are carried out independently and are based on long-established legal principles.

Mr Todhunter says most high country farmers supported the tenure review process in principle when it got underway. But negotiations have stalled over most properties which have entered the process.

"In most cases, the Crown wants so much land for conservation that what's left would be unviable for farming.

"Alternatives proposed by the Accord, like covenants - which would balance environmental, social and economic factors - have been rejected by the Crown. It wants any land of conservation value under DoC control."

With negotiations on more than 70 properties stalled, Mr Todhunter says the government has started using tactics which farming families see as manipulative.

"The refusal by Cabinet to review its high country policies was bad enough. But this has been followed by the government threatening to change the legal basis of our leases.

"The Accord and individual farmers are very willing to negotiate in good faith with the Crown over the future of the high country. This is clearly indicated by the number who have entered the process. But it has to be a two-way street."


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