St James Park – an irresponsible last hurrah

The decision of the government to buy St James Station and add it to the conservation estate is irresponsible says a high country farming group.

“This looks like a last hurrah for prime minister Helen Clark.  At a time when the government’s books are empty, there is still money for the prime minister’s pet projects,” says High Country Accord chair Ben Todhunter.

“The government is guilty of a gross misallocation of taxpayer funds by expanding Crown ownership of high country farmland, especially in the wake of the dire predictions for the economy over the next decade.

“The high country is prone to weed invasion and has to be maintained at substantial expense – an expense which was previously paid for by the farmer. The prime minister has just handed this burden to taxpayers and DoC, a department that struggles even in the best of times to control weeds and pests on its vast estates.,” he says.

“How much better it would be for taxpayers and the economy if DoC was encouraged to work with private land holders to maximise conservation values on private land.”

Mr Todhunter says since 2002 the government has taken an area of high country more than twice the size of Stewart Island, and at vast cost removed it from farming and added it to the conservation estate.

“To speed this process up, the government last year cynically changed rental formulas on leasehold properties so that in some cases, rents are higher than gross farm incomes. This is forcing farming families to sell and, under these circumstances, the Crown is often the only buyer.”