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The equity involved in swapping a strip of private land in Hawea Flat for nine times as much public reserve was considered at a hearing yesterday.
The idea of establishing a track linking Lake Hawea township with Hawea Flat School, in Camp Hill Rd, was first floated more than a decade ago.
Following negotiations initiated by the Upper Clutha Tracks Trust (UCTT), Jenny and Craig Laing, owners of land southwest of the Queenstown Lakes District Council-owned Hawea Domain, agreed to consider a land exchange which would enable the proposed track to be formed along the eastern boundary of the domain.
The Laings have offered a nearly 0.19ha strip of land in exchange for a 1.7ha strip of the domain.
Submitters on the proposal spoke to a hearings panel at the Lake Hawea Community Centre comprising councillors Ella Lawton, Calum MacLeod and Simon Stamers-Smith.
Council property manager Joanne Conroy said as part of the agreement, the Laings had sought the transfer of one share of the Hawea Irrigation Company - which controls the amount of irrigation water available at the domain - to their company Laing Dairy Ltd.
Mr Laing had offered to provide a drinking water source at the domain's clubrooms in return for the share.
Ms Conroy said while the swap was ''weighted in favour'' of the Laings, the land on the domain's boundary was not considered prime land as it was full of tree stumps and would take ''a lot of work'' to bring into production.
A ''more significant chunk'' of land was therefore offered to match the value of the land the Laings would lose.
Concerns about the land swap were raised by farmers Bill and Cathy Allison, who lease part of the domain for grazing.
The domain is also used by the Hawea-Wanaka Pony Club, the Hawea Picnic Racing Club and a fledgling community food forest.
When the Allisons tendered for the domain lease they were unaware 22m would be taken off its western side, they said in their written submission.
They were ''amazed'' the council would offer to swap such an incomparable piece of public land and said a fairer swap should be negotiated.
''I'm not against the bike track. It's just the equity in the swap,'' Mr Allison told the hearings panel yesterday.
He suggested the council look at alternatives, such as reinstating nearby railway reserve for the track.
However, that option was ruled out when lawyer Mr Stamers-Smith said the reserve designation had obviously been lifted from the land as it no longer appeared on the title.
Hawea Community Association (HCA) chairman Dennis Hughes said he had canvassed Lake Hawea residents and found unanimous support for the track proposal, although there were some questions raised around the land swap disparity.
HCA committee member and UCTT trustee Rachel Brown said Mr Allison's concerns were valid as it was important not to give away public land too freely.
However, the ''one-off opportunity'' to link the Hawea communities was too valuable to pass up.
''The inequity isn't ideal ... but it seems like it's the only option.''
Pupils from Hawea Flat School told the hearings panel how a safe walking and cycling link would benefit them.
''Most of my class loves the idea,'' Luca Harrington (10) said.
The longer and hillier alternative biking route, the Hawea River Track, was ''a bit dodgy'' for riding on, Dylan Rimmer (10) added.
The panel will make a recommendation to council regarding the land swap, which also requires Minister of Conservation approval.