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Measures Needed To Safeguard Public Interest


18 AUGUST 2003- Wellington


MEDIA RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE USE

STRONGER MEASURES NEEDED TO SAFEGUARD PUBLIC INTEREST IN HIGH COUNTRY

The Government's new objectives for the high country fall short of what is needed to protect important public conservation and recreation values according to Forest and Bird. Lands Minister John Tamihere announced the new objectives today

"Greater emphasis on the creation of a network of high country parks and reserves and implementing the Biodiversity Strategy is helpful. But much more substantial changes are needed to reverse the current focus on privatizing high country lands. Otherwise these parks risk being just the leftovers from freeholding," Forest and Bird field officer, Eugenie Sage said.

"High country lands with important conservation, landscape and public recreation values are being privatised not protected. On their own it is doubtful whether the government's new objectives will change that."

"To date, lessees have been the major beneficiaries of tenure review with around 60% of the land under review being freeholded," she said.

"It's extraordinary that the Minister has had to spell out the need for LINZ to "obtain a fair financial return to the Crown on its high country land assets" when this should have been fundamental to pastoral lease administration. This highlights how lessees have captured the process."

"Land Information New Zealand's (LINZ's) enthusiasm for freeholding and its failure to safeguard the public interest is depriving the public of secure access to lakes and rivers and compromising any future network of parks and reserves," Ms Sage said.

"Much stricter criteria on what land can be freeholded, a ban on foreign ownership of pastoral leases, and increased funding for the Nature Heritage Fund to purchase significant leases outright are urgently needed."

"On Bendrose in the Mackenzie Basin for example, LINZ proposes to freehold several hundred hectares of shrubland and grassland within a stone's throw of Lake Ohau, denying the public access to and enjoyment of these areas.

"Hundreds of hectares of land between the Twizel and Pukaki Rivers near Twizel are also proposed for freeholding. While the lessee can freehold 4,086 ha, only 1,840 ha of largely steeper, higher altitude land is to be protected as conservation land.

"Near Twizel, another former pastoral lessee is actively marketing newly freeholded land as lifestyle blocks and holiday subdivisions for foreign buyers and others.

"If lands close to Lake Ohau with spectacular views over the lake are freeholded, this is likely to result in pressure for another lifestyle subdivision at the expense of public recreation and restoration of conservation values."

Ends


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