Pastoral lessees head for court with LINZ today to defend their property rights against an attempt by Fish and Game to establish the right to roam in the high country.
High Country Accord chairman Andrew Simpson estimated it would cost pastoral lessees $200,000 to defend but said the stakes were high.
“It’s a direct threat to our way of life and the ability of pastoral lessees to farm the land. We can’t farm if we don’t have some form of control over who enters our properties,” he said.
The case is being heard in the High Court at Wellington, and if successful would grant the public as-of-right access to pastoral lease land for recreation – so long as it did not interfere with the lessee’s exclusive right to pasture for grazing livestock.
. . . Fish and Game chief executive Bryce Johnson said his organisation was seeking a declaratory judgement on whether pastoral leases granted under the 1948 Land Act offered exclusive possession or exclusive occupancy of the land.
He will argue that pastoral leases only grant runholders exclusive rights to the pasture.
I hope the judge is familiar with Shakespeare because I think this argument is similar to the one which prompted Portia’s speech in The Merchant of Venice.
Tarry a little;—there is something else.—
This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood;
The words expressly are, a pound of flesh:
The words expressly, with pastoral leases, are land exclusive of improvements. The land is publicly owned but the improvements which include the fertility, grass, crops, tracks, trees, fences, gates, and buildings, are the property of the lessee.
I reckon that would preclude the right to roam because no-one could enter the property without touching at least some of those improvements.
Regardless of the outcome of the case, we can be grateful that the government wants to heal the rift which developed between pastoral lessees and the previous administration.
Lands Minister Richard Worth said the relationship between lessees and the previous government had collapsed, with farmers feeling there was no trust between the government as landlord and the lessee.
Mr Worth said in an interview he was committed to a relationship based on three policy planks his party campaigned on at the last election: voluntary, good-faith negotiations between runholders and the Government; ensuring rentals were tied to the earning capacity of the property; and recognition that runholders could be as effective land stewards as the Crown.
The inclusion of amenity values in determining rents for leashold land led to court because some lessees are being charged rentals which exceed their gross income just because the sheep and cattle have a view while grazing.
The case concluded last month but the judgement has yet to be released.
Without pre-empting that, there is no doubt this government has a more reasonable attitude to pastoral leases than the previous one. As Agriculture Minsiter David Carter says:
“The land is not easy to manage and the fundamental question we now have to ask is how will the Doc manage its already 43% hold of the South Island.”
Mr Carter said Doc and other interested parties needed to work more closely with farming families who, in many cases, had farmed the land for several generations.
“They are the ones who have delivered us the landscapes we see today. They are the ones with the ability to manage it far more sustainably than any government department,” he said.
The previous government was hung up on ownership. But conservation can be assured and access negotiated without wasting taxpayers’ money on purchasing land and the on-going costs of ownership.