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Lakeside decision leaves farmers traumatised

15 November 2007

High Country Accord

Lakeside decision leaves farmers traumatised

The decision of the government to lock 65 lakeside high country farms into pastoral leases in perpetuity is traumatising for many of the families involved, says High Country Accord chairman Ben Todhunter.

"All of them love their properties. Many of them have been there for three generations and for many of their children, it's what they want for their future," he says.

"However, the unilateral decision of the government to change the methods by which high country properties are valued, means that many families on lakeside properties are being squeezed by soaring rents, declining equity and the inability to freehold their properties.

"If they sell their leases, which they don't want to do, they won't be able to afford to buy freehold properties elsewhere. It's a cruel trap."

Mr Todhunter says the government had justified its decision to lock high country lakeside farms in pastoral leases by the need to protect iconic landscapes.

"This is just cynical spin. These properties have been farmed for 150 years * the natural and historical values on them are the result of careful farmer stewardship over time."

He says there has been very little development of tussock farmland around the southern lakes, even where the land is held in freehold title.

"Many farmers want to keep the land in its natural state and even if they do have ambitions to become developers, there is something called the Resource Management Act. In the Southern Lakes District, the District Plan sets very strict limits on development.

"Also, if the government doesn't trust local councils to enforce their plans, legally binding covenants can be put on properties when they are freeholded during tenure review. These can be used to protect landscapes, skylines and natural vegetation and to ensure public access."

Mr Todhunter said the 5 km line around the southern lakes inside which farms could not be freeholded was an arbitrary political device dreamed up in Wellington.

"From at least three of the properties concerned * and Glenfalloch, Mt Grand and Mt Algidus spring to mind * you would be hard pressed to get a lake view, other than from the mountaintops. I suspect that the character who dreamed up this rule hasn't been in a place like that for quite some time.

"Also, today's announcements are in conflict with nearly all of the government's 10 high country objectives. I guess that reflects the fact that the government's high country policies are in disarray. They ignore the realities of high country land management, they're inconsistent and they're impractical.

"The tragedy is that there is a human cost."

He said the lakeside decision would have the greatest impact on the 38 families whose properties were already in tenure review * some of whom had spent tens of thousands of dollars in legal and consultancy fees, and were well-advanced in their planning for the future.

"Many of these families are quite traumatised. They are feeling trapped and in despair about their situation * a situation quite unnecessarily created by the government."


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