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Marginal strips next to waterways

David Parker MP for Otago

9 May 2005

Marginal strips next to waterways will protect NZers’ birthright: David Parker

Sales of New Zealand land over 5 ha in area to overseas interests would trigger the compulsory creation of Crown-owned marginal strips of land next to waterways, according to a key recommendation in a select committee report tabled in Parliament today.

The 5 hectare threshold is reduced to 0.4ha (=4,000m2) for land on smaller islands or adjacent to lakes and to 0.2ha (=2,000m2) if adjacent to the foreshore.

The marginal strips would generally be 20 metres in width, which is the equivalent of “the Queens chain”. No compensation would be payable. It would be a precondition of selling to overseas buyers. In addition, where the private title being sold includes areas of foreshore, river and lakebed, the Overseas Investment Commission consent process will encourage those areas to be offered for sale to the Crown.

The provisions have been inserted by the Select Committee report on the Overseas Investment Bill, which has been under consideration by the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee.

The provisions were the initiative of Otago MP David Parker who is on the Committee.

The report tabled today says:

“While the water column of lakes and rivers are public property, and the beds of most lakes and many rivers are currently owned by the Crown, some rest in private ownership. We had clear evidence that foreign ownership of large properties is concentrated around our waterways in our most scenic areas. This lends weight to the submissions we received that foreign owners from jurisdictions with low tax regimes or higher concentrations of wealth can and do outbid New Zealanders and control access to some of our waterways. Sometimes their ethic to public access is more restrictive than has been the historical norm. We had evidence of rural property being advertised for sale in an airline magazine in United States dollars, placing emphasis on “private water”.

Mr Parker said it had been apparent for some time that overseas purchase of New Zealand land has been steadily increasing; much of it in prime locations next to important waterways.

“The information provided by officials to the Select Committee showed that around 50% of the land between Wanaka and Queenstown has passed into overseas ownership in the last 10 years,” said Mr Parker. “This is a lot of land in some of the most beautiful and significant countryside in New Zealand.”

“Areas of foreign ownership tend to be concentrated around waterways, because they are prime locations,” he said. “We are steadily losing control of access to some of our waterways.”

Mr Parker used the example of the exclusive Poronui Station, a spread of almost 7,000 hectares in a secluded valley a half-hour's drive from Lake Taupo which offers a secluded retreat and “private” fly-fishing in the Taharua and Mohaka rivers.

In a recent advertisement in the Air New Zealand Flight Magazine, the station was advertised for sale for US $50 million including “private water”.

“The majority on the committee believed that controls are necessary to guarantee access to our waterways and that this protects an important birthright of all New Zealanders – access to our rivers, lakes and foreshore – that should not be excluded by foreign ownership.,” said Mr Parker. The new provisions will provide for ‘the creation of marginal strips next to certain rivers, lakes and the foreshore adjoining or within sensitive land. Where land is offered for sale to an overseas person, and that land includes, or adjoins, a river or lake, or adjoins the foreshore, the majority considers that a 20 metre marginal strip should be created next to the river, lake, or foreshore. The marginal strip should be vested in the Crown, and would be held under the Conservation Act 1987.’

“These provisions, guarantee (unless an exemption is granted) that a marginal strip will be created, and ensuring that it will remain in existence even if the property passes out of overseas hands” he said.

“I maintain, and this bill backs this up, that if you want to access the overseas market and sell to overseas interests that’s okay, but we will protect the birthright of New Zealander’s to access our waterways,” he said.

He further noted that there have long been other situations in New Zealand where marginal strips or esplanade reserves have been triggered – the subdivision of land or the renewal of high country pastoral leases being two examples. The provisions creating marginal strips have been opposed by the National Party. Mr Parker labeled these actions hypocritical in light of National’s strident willingness to protect public access to foreshore and seabed.

Mr Parker said: “National were strident in their calls to override Maori interests to protect public access to foreshore and seabed, but they are unwilling to do the same to protect the birthright of all New Zealanders’ access to foreshore, rivers and lake.

“This is despite clear evidence of foreigners obtaining increased control of our waterways. What hypocrisy. In contrast, we in Labour believe some things are not for sale – including our birthright of access to our waterways.”

The bill has two stages to proceed in Parliament before it is enacted.


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