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Objectives for the South Island high country

Objectives for the South Island high country

Cabinet has agreed to new objectives for the South Island high country, Minister for Land Information John Tamihere announced today.

Mr Tamihere said the new objectives clearly outlined the Government's approach to the South Island high country and management of the high country tenure review process.

Land tenure review is a process that allows high country properties formerly in pastoral leases to be split into land to be protected as public conservation land, and land to be freeholded. In doing so it balances the interests of farming communities, conservation, public access and outdoor recreation groups.

"The new objectives take into account the sometimes competing economic, social, cultural, ecological and recreational interests concerning the high country, and balances those natural tensions accordingly," Mr Tamihere says.

"The original objectives for tenure review were set in 1994 and have been modified over the years without being consolidated as a whole. The new objectives clearly outline and reflect best practices and outcomes for New Zealand and the high country."

THE OBJECTIVES

Objectives derived from the Crown Pastoral Land Act:

To promote the management of the Crown's high country land in a way that is ecologically sustainable.

To enable reviewable land that is capable of economic use to be freed of current management constraints.

To protect significant inherent values of reviewable land by the creation of protective measures; or preferably by restoration of the land concerned to full Crown ownership and control.

To secure public access to enjoyment of high country land.

To take into account the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. To take into account any particular purpose for which the Crown uses, or intends to use, the land.

New complementary objectives:

To ensure that conservation outcomes for the high country are consistent with the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy. To progressively establish a network of high country parks and reserves.

To foster sustainability of communities, infrastructure and economic growth and the contribution of the high country to the economy of New Zealand.

To obtain a fair financial return to the Crown on its high country land assets.

(NB "reviewable land" refers to lease and licence land)

Work will now be done on how best to implement the objectives and interested parties will be consulted.

BACKGROUND

The Crown owns 2.37 million hectares of South Island high country land under lease or licence, comprising 304 high country leases (2.17 million ha) five pastoral occupation licences (0.02 million hectares) and Molesworth Station (0.18 million hectares).

This land is located from Marlborough to Southland. Much of the land has been grazed since the mid 19th Century and is environmentally sensitive.

At the time of European settlement, the high country was regarded as wastelands suitable only for extensive grazing. From the 1850s a succession of rights of pastoral occupation was granted.

There was widespread land degradation due to overgrazing, burning, erosion and rabbits in the 19th and early 20th centuries, although more recent initiatives by the Government and lessees have implemented sustainable land management practices.

The pastoral lease system was created under the Land Act 1948 to provide occupiers with the confidence to invest in long-term management strategies and to enable the Crown to exercise control over leased land for soil conservation and erosion control.

Leaseholders were granted exclusive occupation rights and fixed rentals but no right of freehold.

The pastoral leases are granted on a perpetual basis with 33-year rights of renewal and 11-year rent reviews. Rentals are fixed under the Crown Pastoral Land Act 1998 (CPLA) at between 1.5 per cent and 2.25 per cent of unimproved land value.

Pastoral Occupation Licences are for a maximum 21 years, with a possible further term of five years.

Molesworth is a special lease that expires on 30 June 2005, the future of which is being currently considered.

Pastoral lease arrangements were comprehensively reviewed by the Clayton Committee of Inquiry in 1982, which concluded that pastoral lease tenure had outlived its usefulness, recognised that there were wider values attached to pastoral lands, and proposed a process of tenure review.

The committee's recommendations, and those of the 1992 Martin report, underwent extensive analysis, consultation and negotiation, with the eventual outcome being the CPLA.

Leaseholders' rights were carried over into the CPLA, but leaseholders had to accept the concept of "significant inherent values", a greater role for the Department of Conservation, and greater Crown powers to control land use through the discretionary consents process.

The tenure review process, set out in the CPLA, was the outcome of lengthy analysis, debate and negotiation to meet both production and conservation objectives for the high country.

In March 2003 Cabinet invited the ministers for Land Information, Conservation, Agriculture and Rural Affairs to report on the Government's objectives for the high country and how they relate to the land tenure review programme. The objectives announced are the result of that process.

Tenure review is entered on a voluntary basis by leaseholders. To date 162 leases are in the tenure review programme, and of these 12 reviews are at or near completion.

Tenure review will result in as much as 1.3 million ha of tussock grassland areas east of the Southern Alps being added to this conservation network. These areas are not currently well represented in public conservation land and their addition will safeguard habitats and ecosystems important for indigenous species.

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