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Crown's u-turn on high country land rejected

Media release High Country Accord

31 October 2008

Crown's u-turn on high country land rejected by High Court

A High Court judgement has ruled against the Crown for reneging on a deal to offer a special lease to a group of high country farmers.

In 2003 the Commissioner of Crown Lands (CCL) decided to grant a special lease on the expiry of a pastoral occupation licence to the group, known as the Soldiers' Syndicate.

In 2005 the CCL changed his mind and decided to designate the land, comprising 4,400 hectares in the Hawkdun and Ida ranges near Ranfurly in Otago, as a conservation area. The syndicate appealed to the High Court and was vindicated by the decision released yesterday (30 October).

Syndicate spokesman Philip Smith said, "We are elated by the verdict and are thrilled that the court has overturned what we consider to be a bad faith decision by the Crown.

"The farmers now have more confidence that their livelihoods will not be threatened by a unilateral decision to transfer to the Department of Conservation (DoC) land that they have grazed and managed for nearly 100 years."

High Country Accord Chairman Ben Todhunter also welcomed the decision.

"This is one of three court cases where high country farming families are defending their legal rights against the Crown, or Crown entities.

"Basically, you have a government determined to convert tussock grasslands that have been grazed by farmers for generations into high country parks and reserves. Because the government hasn't been able to achieve this on the scale it wants through good faith bargaining, ministers and the agencies that report to them, have been abusing legal processes."

In the review of tenure of a pastoral occupation licence such as that granted to the Soldiers' Syndicate, the Crown must consult DoC before designating land.

Mr Todhunter said this effectively meant that once the decision has been made by the Commissioner, DoC cannot then have "another bite of the cherry".

The Commissioner of Crown Lands is not obliged to consult with the landholder, but the court ruled that, having made a decision, the Crown could not renege on the deal made to the syndicate.

Hon. Justice French ruled that the Commissioner must give effect to the decision made and conveyed to the syndicate. Her ruling also stated that the interpretation of the Crown Pastoral Land Act 1998 by the syndicate was more consistent with the overall scheme of Part 3 of the Act, and with common sense, than the interpretation by the Crown.

The case is the first where a court has been asked to rule on the interpretation of Part 3 of the Act, which deals with reviews of land held under a non-renewable occupation licence.

ENDS

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