The Southland Times is not impressed that:
The Government is spending $40 million to buy — sorry, “protect” — the mighty and magnificent St James Station . .
I’m not impressed either, but for different reasons.
The paper’s concern is a fear of foreign ownership:
But the question should be screamed from these newly acquired mountaintops — why does the Overseas Investment Act not provide protection of a sort needed in this case?
The Overseas Investment Office confirms an overseas buyer could have bought the property, provided they met criteria including that the purchase benefit the country or a group of New Zealanders.
Wouldn’t it then have protections as part of the deal? The Stevenson family, who have owned the property since 1927 and by common consent have tended it well, would have us be aware that, as they saw it (and they’re vendors, remember), an owner other than the Crown could have had a very different set of priorities for the land.
They warn of scope for new owners to inhibit public access and develop the property more intensively for farming. Not everyone would throw up their hands at that latter scenario, but it is clearly one the family does not favour.
So now, thanks to $40 million of your money, the whole kit and caboodle is in public ownership. Elsewhere in the world, even in Pacific nations much smaller than New Zealand, ownership of the land is far more stringently protected.
It wouldn’t have made any difference whether it was an overseas buyer or New Zealanders who’d bought the property, once is was sold property rights apply. That includes the right to do what you want with your land within the law and that includes any restrictions imposed by District and Regional Plans, none of which are affected by the nationality of the owners.
I don’t understand this aversion to foreign ownership because regardless of who owns it, they can’t take the land away and they can’t do anything more or less with it than New Zealanders can.
Restricting ownership of land to citizens limits investment opportunities and depresses the value, it doesn’t offer any more protection.
My concern is not who owns it but the on-going cost of owning it because the $40m purchase price is only the start.
I’ve tried to get the figures for management, repairs maintenance, weed and pest control and other on-going running costs of the other pastoral lease properties which have been bought by the taxpayer but haven’t succeeded.
However, I know what they are on our farms which cover a tiny percentage of the land area owned by the taxpayer. It’s a big number and at least it’s off-set by income, but the small amount DOC will get back from any charges they impose won’t even make a dent in the on-going expenses which will fall on us as taxpayers.