High Country Accord policies
- Our vision
- Our objectives
- A fair tenure review policy
- A fair rent-setting formula for perpetual leases
- Lakeside properties
The High Country Accord’s vision is for farming families to be valued by the government and people of New Zealand as environmental stewards and cultural guardians of the high country. Also our businesses need to be allowed to have the flexibility to remain viable during changing times.
Land ownership patterns in the high country need to be able to respond to changes in economics, technology and in society itself. But if these changes are forced by government, there is much for New Zealand to lose.
We believe tenure review should continue, but on the basis – as promised by the minister of lands to parliament during the debate on the Crown Pastoral Lands Act (CPLA) before it became law – that it would “deliver a fair and equitable outcome to all parties”.
It is in everyone’s interest for government and other stakeholders to work with farmers in achieving outcomes from tenure review that are environmentally, economically and socially sound.
To achieve this, more emphasis should be given to the CPLA objective that resources should be managed sustainably. At present, government policy is based on the unproven doctrine that changing ownership and removing stock from tussock country will of itself result in a better environmental outcome.
The Accord’s main objectives are:
- To convince the New Zealand Government and people that private ownership and stewardship is the best way to protect the environment, economy and cultural heritage of the South Island high country.
- To protect the property rights of high country farmers with perpetual Crown leases and to build awareness of the important role these rights play in protecting the high country environment and building its economy.
A fair Tenure Review policy
The Accord believes owners of perpetually renewable Crown Pastoral Leases should be allowed to buy the freehold title to all or most of their land, so long as there is ongoing legal protection of areas with Significant Inherent Values (SIVs).
- On most farms, SIVs are defined as Significant Natural Areas by the local district council, and protected by rules laid down in its District Plan under the Resource Management Act.
- If the local District Plan has yet to provide this protection, these values could be protected by a temporary legal covenant. On properties where large areas of land have both productive and environmental values, protection could be provided by ‘sustainable management covenants’ under freehold title, as provided for under the CPLA. This would also help to promote community custodianship of covenants.
- SIVs should be evaluated objectively, on the basis of regional significance, rather than what is present on an individual property.
- Most SIVs on farmland are the result of many decades of farmer stewardship under low intensity grazing regimes. Such areas should not be routinely transferred to the Crown unless there is sound scientific evidence that this will benefit conservation values, or is necessary to protect an historic or cultural site.
- All New Zealand land managers – both farmers and the Crown – should be accountable for their stewardship of their land, based on objective monitoring. There is no rationale for singling out high country farmers for special treatment, or making them accountable to multiple agencies with potentially conflicting requirements.
A fair rent-setting formula for perpetual leases
A policy of including “amenity values” in the valuation of the Crown’s interest in pastoral leases, when valuing them for rental purposes, was introduced by the government in 2007. This was in direct conflict with the recommendations of the independent Armstrong Committee charged by the government with reviewing the fairness of rent-setting arrangements, and has had the effect of dramatically increasing rents on properties with high amenity values.
Higher rents not only increase the Crown’s income from each lease at the expense of the farmer. They force farmers into tenure review, increase the Crown’s share of the value of each property and make it cheaper for the Crown to buy out the farmer’s interest. They also divert money from the local economy to central government and reduce the farmer’s financial ability to manage weeds and pests.
The government should abandon this cynical policy and adopt the recommendations of the Armstrong Committee which said that if case law and the overall intentions of the Act were taken into account, rents for leases had to be based on the value of the land, exclusive of lessees’ improvements, for “pasturage”, the only land use permitted under the Crown Pastoral Lands Act.
In November 2007, the government announced that 65 leasehold properties visible from major South Island lakes would no longer be eligible for tenure review. At the time, 38 such properties were in the review process.
This policy, which is of questionable legality, should be abandoned. Farming families should be permitted to negotiate tenure review settlements in all locations, subject to protective mechanisms provided for in the Crown Pastoral Lands Act 1998.
The new policy was ostensibly to ensure that properties in “iconic” locations were protected from inappropriate subdivision and over-development.
However, iconic high country landscapes are already well protected by district plans under the Resource Management Act. If there is any uncertainty about the strength of protection under a particular plan, it can be provided for in legally binding covenants on land titles during tenure review.