High country farmers oppose pastoral lease Bill

The Walking Access Commission prepared the draft report, which focuses on the South Island's...
File photo: George Empson
Proposed reform of the law overseeing South Island high country pastoral leases will not lead to better environmental outcomes, a public hearing has been told.

Northburn Station owner Tom Pinckney told Parliament's environment select committee in Queenstown on Thursday the Crown Pastoral Land Reform Bill would undermine the sense of ownership that gave leaseholders the "ultimate motivation" to treat their land well.

If it became law, it would introduce a regulatory approach that would cause "friction and a lack of engagement".

Individually-tailored, enforceable farm environmental plans that recognised every lease was unique was the way forward, Mr Pinckney said.

"We need more of a partnership — a balanced carrot-and-stick approach."

The Bill, now being considered by the committee in a public submission and hearing process, seeks to overturn the way 1.2million hectares of Crown pastoral high country land is now managed.

It would end tenure review, a process by which the Government has bought out all or part of some of the leases over the past two decades.

It would also introduce a new regime aimed at ensuring remaining Crown pastoral land is managed in a way that maintains or enhances its ecological, landscape, cultural heritage, and scientific values.

It seeks to improve the process for lessees to get permission for activities other than grazing, while making it easier to carry out low-impact activities, such as fencing and weed control, without consent.

Mr Pinckney, who farms near Cromwell, said he was visited by a Land Information NZ portfolio manager about once every five years, which was not often enough.

"Annual visits and a partnership approach would go a long way to achieving the desired outcomes without the need for further regulation."

The opportunity for greater public access to the high country that tenure review provided would be "lost forever", he said.

Brian Hore, owner of Nokomai Station, near Athol, said the Bill would introduce "unnecessary bureaucracy and cost".

He had seen a vast improvement in the vegetation on high country land during his time as a farmer, which was the result of good farming practices and control of weeds and pests.

Geoffrey Thomson, lessee of Mt Earnslaw Station, near Glenorchy, said the Bill should be dropped because existing legislation had served the country well.

Despite issues such as wilding pines, the South Island high country was in the best environmental state it had been since pastoral farming started.

A collaborative rather than regulatory approach would lead to even better environmental outcomes, Mr Thomson said.

guy.williams@odt.co.nz

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