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The Government was the biggest buyer of high country land and its involvement was driving up pastoral lease rents for farmers, says a farming leader.
Federated Farmers high country committee chairman Don Aubrey said prices the Government was paying for land to add to the conservation estate and its park network was driving up land values and therefore rents paid by lessees.
"They're working both sides of the system."
Mr Aubrey said Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) admitted in the Land Valuation Tribunal hearing in Dunedin last week that higher rents based on valuations for amenity values, were designed to encourage lessees in to tenure review.
"The problem with that, is it seems to have little to do with obtaining a fair return for the Crown and more to do with establishing a network of high country parks."
Since December 2003, the Government has bought eight high country properties, either outright or in part, in addition to land acquired through tenure review.
St James was the ninth.
"It is clear to all that the New Zealand Government is at present the biggest buyer of high country pastoral leases. As a consequence, the prices paid by the Crown is having a marked influence on the market," Mr Aubrey said.
He did not accept Prime Minister Helen Clark's claim that the Crown bought St James Station to "protect it for future generations of New Zealanders".
He said there was no indication other parties were lining up to buy it.
Neither did he accept claims the Crown was paying comparable prices when measured by the hectare, saying the most important figure was per stock unit, as that dictated the ability to service a loan or to pay rent as a lessee.
"Under a pastoral lease there is no automatic right apart from access to pasturage. Therefore, the stock the land can carry is going to be the most critical element in paying bills."
The $40 million paid for St James raised questions about what the Crown was actually paying for - topical given the Dunedin hearing was debating what part of a pastoral lease the Crown owned and what part was owned by lessees.
Mr Aubrey said the St James lessee received $40 million, which raised the question of the value of the land exclusive of improvements (LEI), a figure which has not been made public.
"Put simply, the Crown doesn't buy what it already owns."