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End of tenure review does not end debate

End of tenure review does not end debate on leases or land management

First published in Energy and Environment on June 20, 2019.

Submissions on the management of Crown pastoral land shows ending the tenure review process does not solve the problem of balancing the property rights of leaseholders with preservation of the iconic environmental values of the area covered.

Land Information NZ received submissions from 32 organisations, and 3,216 individuals (including 2,739 form submissions provided by Forest & Bird and Greenpeace) with 100 submitters also endorsed the High Country Accord’s submission on behalf of leaseholders.

Earlier this year the Government announced it would be ending tenure review where land can be sold to a leaseholder and areas with high ecological or other values transferred to the conservation estate.

This means the Crown will likely remain the long-term owner of 1.2m hectares of leased pastoral land, though several submissions said there still should be ways to end leases.

Pastoral leaseholders wanted future management to reflect the contractual relationship with the Crown, such as the exclusive right to pasturage of the land and to exclusive occupation and quiet enjoyment. Other submitters want the Crown to do more to protect the rights it has reserved in Crown pastoral land and the significant public interest in how the estate is administered.

There were also submitters questioning whether the pastoral lease, which is intended to provide primarily for pastoral farming and limited other uses, is still fit for purpose considering the changing context of the high country.

Leaseholders said the proposed management hierarchy, which places natural capital, and culture and heritage values above pastoral activity, impacts on leaseholders’ property rights as contractually agreed.

Many submitters, especially environmental groups, view that the hierarchy is essential to maintain environmental bottom-lines. Forest & Bird and Environmental Defence Society in their joint submission said the way the outcomes were defined did not go far enough and would end up perpetuating the trade-offs already occurring.

The tenure review process was intended to see leases moved into private ownership and some land moved back into full Crown control, but was widely criticised as some lease holders made large windfall profits with more land turned over into intensive farming.

Current leaseholder expressed concern their future management of the land would be tainted by reactions to tenure review outcomes and this was not fair.

Many said there should also be mechanisms to purchase whole of partial leases to protect vulnerable inherent values and enhance public access.

Most submitters who recommended this approach view that purchases should be carried out by the Nature Heritage Fund and the purchased lease should then become public conservation land. Areas of the previously leased land that is already developed could first be offered to the relevant iwi and then on-sold through a public auction to fund future purchases.

The Environmental Defence Society and Forest & Bird suggest $200m would be needed to target highly valued leasehold land.

Some said it was also presumptuous of the Government to end tenure review without consultation and every leaseholder currently in the process should be given the option to go forward with their review in good faith.

Environmental groups tended to disagree and said any proposals had to be reassessed due to the significance of the landscapes involved.First published in Energy and Environment on June 20, 2019.

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