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High Country left vulnerable by Investment Bill

Tuesday 7 June 2005 - Christchurch

High Country left vulnerable by Overseas Investment Bill

The Government is failing to protect the public and Crown interest in the South Island high country by not strengthening controls on the sale of pastoral leases to overseas owners, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society says.

The Overseas Investment Bill is due for its second reading in Parliament this week.

"As reported back, the Bill fails to address public concerns about the sale to absentee overseas owners of leases over often spectacular and uniquely New Zealand landscapes. It would allow the LINZ (as successor to the Overseas Investment Commission) to rubber-stamp such purchases, just as the OIC did," Forest and Bird field officer, Eugenie Sage said.

"The Bill should be amended to either prohibit the sale of pastoral leases to overseas persons or require a pastoral lease to complete tenure review before it was sold offshore. Then, only land which was freeholded through tenure review would be sold, not extensive areas important for conservation.

Allowing pastoral leases to be bought and sold on a worldwide market pushes up land prices to the detriment of conservation and public recreation," Ms Sage said.

New York billionaire, Julian Robertson who outbid the Department of Conservation and the Nature Heritage Fund in 2002 to buy Canterbury's Brooksdale Station recently withdrew the property from tenure review.

"There is now no opportunity to protect sensitive lakeside areas around Lake Lyndon near Porters Pass and add them to the Korowai/Torlesse Tussockland Park, or secure public access up the Kowai Valley, a crucial recreational route into the park to Mt Torlesse itself. Continued grazing will further degrade these areas which contain some of the largest known wild plants of the endangered Hebe cupressoides. Public access will continue to be at the whim of the lessee and his manager. Public money spent on tenure review has been wasted," Ms Sage said today.

"The Resource Management Act does not necessarily protect ecological values. Many rural district plans have weak controls on burning and clearing tussocks and matagouri, wetland drainage and earthworks. District councils often fail to enforce those limited controls which do exist.

High country pastoral leases are a strategic Crown asset - they are hugely important for indigenous plants and wildlife, their landscape and recreation values. A greater level of control is appropriate over sales to offshore interests," Ms Sage said.

"As reported back the Overseas Investment Bill also fails to protect public open space in the coastal marine area. There is no screening of overseas purchases of resource consents to use coastal space for aquaculture. The double standard between fisheries quota and resource consents for marine farming is inappropriate, when both concern a public resource," Ms Sage said.

"The lack of controls on overseas investment in marine farming could increase the pressure to use coastal waters valued by the public. It is inconsistent that private land which adjoins the foreshore is deservedly a "sensitive asset" but adjoining coastal waters which make that land sensitive, are not.

Just as there is with the sale of fisheries quota, there should be a process and criteria to determine whether the sale of resource consents for marine farming is in the national interest," Ms Sage concluded.

NOTES

In 2002 New York billionaire Julian Robertson outbid the Department of Conservation and Nature Heritage Fund in 2002 to buy Brooksdale Station. He paid $6.75 million for the 4,538 hectare property beneath the Torlesse Range in the Canterbury foothills.
Parts of Brooksdale bisect the 22,000 hectare Korowai/Torlesse Tussockland Park created in 2001. These areas deserve to be part of the park. They include a strip of land that runs over Porters Pass along the western side of Lake Lyndon and onto Red Hill just east of Porter Heights skifield.

Brooksdale also controls access from the foot of Porters Pass up the Kowai River portion of the park to the dramatic natural feature "The Gap" and to Mt Torlesse itself.

The high altitude (800metres asl) Brooksdale tussocklands near Lake Lyndon, although of little farming value, contain shrublands containing the endangered Hebe cupressoides including some of the largest surviving wild plants. There are no seedlings of this rare plant at this site because of continued grazing.

There has been considerable volunteer effort removing wilding pines from pastoral lease lands around Lake Lyndon under the reasonable public expectation that the property's involvement in tenure review made it highly likely that this area would become part of the Korowai/Torlesse Tussockland Park.

Public money has already been spent in conservation surveys on Brooksdale as part of the tenure review process. These funds will certainly now in part be wasted because of Mr Robertson's decision to withdraw from the process.
Coleridge Downs, a 1,899 ha high country freehold property near Canterbury's Lake Coleridge, is 95 % owned by Erdman family of Hawaii which has extensive agribusiness interests in USA.

Extensive cultivation and land development has destroyed tussock and shrubland cover and wetlands. A large-scale forestry development has severe impacts on conservation values including loss of significant wetlands, tarns and associated vegetation. These activities were poorly controlled by the Selwyn District Plan.

ENDS

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