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High Country Accord threat a ''smokescreen''

11 March 2005 - Wellington
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High Country Accord threat a ''smokescreen''

The High Country Accord’s threats about farmers withdrawing from tenure review is a smokescreen the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society says.

“They help disguise the fact that pastoral lessees, not the public, have been the major beneficiaries of tenure review. Lessees have been able to freehold 93,000 ha. of the high country at giveaway prices, while only 49,000 ha. has become conservation land open to the public,” Forest and Bird Conservation Manager, Kevin Hackwell, said.

“Conservation ends up with the left-overs. These are the areas that lessees don’t want to freehold. These are generally the higher altitude lands, which are less productive, and less suitable for grazing or subdividing for property development.

Some lessees have made windfall gains at the public’s expense when they have been able to freehold valuable lakeside land near Lake Wanaka, and around Queenstown and Twizel and been able to on-sell this for lifestyle blocks and expensive subdivisions.

The Accord’s opposition to market rents ignores the reality that over half of all leasees pay less than $100 a week to rent thousands of hectares each. Another 30% of lessees pay less than $200 a week. Only 2 % (seven lessees) pay a rental of $365 a week or more and even then they are paying between a quarter and a third of the present market rent.

“Why should taxpayers be subsidising the high country lifestyles of some of our wealthiest residents, including affluent overseas pop stars?”

A move to market rents will give the Crown a fairer return, help establish more realistic land values, and should help improve the outcomes from tenure review.

To date LINZ has failed to protect the public interest in the high country’s native plants, wildlife, landscapes and recreational values. LINZ allows the areas, which DoC and its experts recommend as deserving protection, to be whittled down substantially during negotiations with lessees. Public submissions on the shortcomings of preliminary tenure review proposals are generally ignored.

Continued grazing and burning in the high country is not environmentally sustainable. In many areas grazing and burning has removed tussock, shrubs and other native plants and impoverished the habitats for lizards, alpine insects and birds. Instead areas become dominated by hieracium and unpalatable speargrass.

Tenure review was supposed to help change this and to promote ecologically sustainable management. Its results have been disappointing, particularly where lower altitude lands important for indigenous plants and wildlife and for public recreation have been freeholded and lost to the public.

A major change is needed in implementation of the Government’s objectives for the high country. Market rentals are part of this.”

ENDS

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