Private property is private regardless of size

April 19, 2018

Increasing numbers of visitors are increasing problems for landowners who may restrict or refuse access.

This was one of the issue identified by Walking Access Commission Ara Hīkoi Aotearoa in the South Island High Country Access Report.

One landholder, who has a popular walkway that crosses his property, spoke of the numbers of people increasing from approximately 30,000 per year in 2013 to an expected 70-100,000 people in 2017.

While most private landholders, the Department of Conservation and local authorities all agreed that the percentage of poorly behaved visitors wasn’t getting worse, the number increases mean the impact of poor behaviour is still growing.

One noted issue was the impact of the internet making it harder to predict which walks/areas will become popular – one viral Instagram post or YouTube video can result in thousands more people coming to a place previously only known to locals.

Increased numbers and unpredictability are also making landholders warier of opening new access points. A farmer happy to have a track with 1000 people per year might be less willing to do so if they are fearful they will instead have 20,000 people per year.

With more people you get more problems with people who don’t understand outdoor etiquette – leave gates as you find them, don’t disturb stock, take only photos, leave only footprints. . .

Friends have a musterers’ hut near a walking trail. Trampers found the key, went into the hut, turned on the gas, used it and left it on, left rubbish then posted where to find the key on social media.

Many interviewees pointed out that numbersin themselves are not necessarily a bad thing, but rather it is the unpredictability and thelack of control over where people go that can cause problems. Positives of increased numbers include more money owing into regions, and more opportunities for farmers to diversify their income streams to help subsidise bad years in their core operation – such as accommodation on trails, concessions for guided tours, and more. . . 

The lack of appropriate infrastructure to go along with tracks and trails was noted repeatedly, in particular a lack of toileting facilities and the impact that has on the environment. . . 

Who pays for the infrastructure and attends to its upkeep? Landowners who get no return for access don’t want to, nor do councils with small rating bases when most of the visitors aren’t ratepayers.

The report looks at the different wants of cyclists, mountain bikers, day walkers, trampers, horse riders, hunters and fishers and then summerises:

A focus on public access, and the associated infrastructure, is necessary to ensure that locals and domestic tourists can experience and enjoy New Zealand’s great outdoors, and that tourists have a positive experience that turns them into ambassadors for our tourism industry. As well as economic development opportunities, easy and  enjoyable public access opportunities can benefit public health through increased exercise and active transport methods. 

In order to achieve the full benefits, the areas that need to be addressed are:

Numbers
Create new access opportunities through the area, with a focus on opportunities that will prove attractive to people currently using tracks and trails that are over or near capacity. Also focus on activities that are currently under catered for, such as horseriding. 

Pilot new methods of digital and other communication to help direct tourist traffic to areas that have capacity, and away from areas that are over capacity.

Find solutions to manage access, in particular on working farms and in sensitive conservation areas, to ensure negative impact is minimised.

Infrastructure
New funding streams, in particular for lowratepayer base councils, to enable central and local government agencies to build appropriate public access infrastructure such as toilets and carparks.

Clarify who is responsible for access infrastructure where private landholders have gifted secure access, and on tracks and trails that cross multiple land tenure types.

Explore funding options for ‘less sexy’ maintenance and infrastructure that volunteer groups currently find it difficult to fundraise for.

Collect better data that allows for more reliable future modelling, so infrastructure can be built ahead of or alongside increasing demand, rather than always playing catch-up.

Information
Creation of a single, trustworthy digital source of information on where people can go in the outdoors and what they can do there, regardless of land ownership.

Integration of safety information where necessary in this information source.

Behaviour
Funding to address systemic behaviour issues, such as rubbish bins, multi-lingual signage etc.

Explore resources targeted at international tourists on appropriate behaviour – perhaps in conjunction with airlines or rental car companies.

A focus on education at a school and university level to teach people about how to behave in the outdoors from a young age so it stays with them for life.

Connections
Coordination between agencies to do landscape level planning for tracks and trails, to connect existing ones to each other, to local amenities and to population centres, with the authority to work alongside the Department of Conservation, local government, iwi and community groups to coordinate planning and activities.

A role for this agency in Tenure Review and Overseas Investment Act processes, as key ways of creating new access.

That is all very reasonable but overlooks one very important fact.

Private property is private property regardless of size.

No-one would expect open access for recreation on a small private section in town but some don’t understand they aren’t entitled to do that on bigger properties in the country.

Rural landowners has the exact same right to quiet enjoyment of their properties and the exact same rights to allow, restrict or refuse access as urban property owners.

That many are becoming increasingly less open to public access isn’t helped by politically anti-farmer rants like this from Fish and Game although it is calling for curbs on tourism numbers in the high country.


Save whose farms from what?

August 25, 2010

A group of Aucklanders wants to Save The Farms .

Not from pests and diseases, high rates bills, compliance costs and a myriad of other real threats. They want to save us from the perceived threat of foreign ownership.

Rather than saving our farms, StF is threatening them.

It is an incorporated society whose purpose is to:

  • Maintain ownership by New Zealand citizens of all agricultural and sensitive land and land of cultural importance.
  • To gain an immediate Moratorium on the sale of this land to foreign investors.
  • To promote and stimulate informed public debate around these objectives in a non political and partisan manner.
  • To promote a revision of the Overseas Investment Act 2005.

To this end they want the government:

  •  to put a moratorium on the sale of the Crafar farms and other sensitive agricultural land.
  •  to give urgency to the proposed review of the Overseas Investment Act 2005 incorporating a robust programme for public submission as announced by the Prime Minister.
  • The moratorium on the sale of sensitive agricultural land remains until the review of the Act has been completed.

This is a direct attack on property rights and farm values.

What do they mean by “our” farms anyway?  The only farms which might be considered “ours”  are those owned by Landcorp.

The rest aren’t “ours”. They are the property of the many individuals, trusts, companies and other bodies who have purchased the land.

Excluding foreign buyers would have an immediate and negative impact on the price of farmland. Other would-be purchasers might enjoy that but would-be sellers and the hundreds of other land owners whose farms’ values would plummet, and their creditors, would not.

What makes farms special or different from commercial or residential property, businesses and companies that all foreigners should be prevented from buying it?

Around 80% of our forestry is foreign-owned as are many other companies operating here including several vineyards and wineries and hotel chains. A Chinese company has a big stake in PGG Wrightson which gives them access to PGW’s intellectual property in seed development.

Most of our banks are foreign owned and their policies and operations impact on the day to day life of New Zealanders directly in a way that farms do not.

The Overseas Investment Act  already requires vetting of would-be purchasers of more than 5 hectares of non-urban land.

Regardless of who the owners are they can’t take the land with them and are subject to the same laws and regulations governing what they can do with it as everyone else.

Bernard Hickey says SOF’s is a myopic, xenophobic campiagn which needs debating.

I agree with his adjectives and think a discussion on the facts would be helpful. It could start with a KPMG report which found:

  • There is no evidence that New Zealand is experiencing an unusually high level of foreign investment in agricultural assets.
  • No justification for significant changes to the overseas investment rules . . .
  • KPMG’s Head of Agribusiness, Ian Proudfoot says: 

    “As a small, developed economy New Zealand has always required inbound investment to support the standards of living we are now accustomed to, and this holds true even in the current environment. The agricultural sector in particular lacks sufficient equity to take advantage of the opportunities available to it and foreign investment offers the potential for us to maximise the value of our land. Events of the last year have demonstrated we are not always able or prepared to finance these opportunities from our own resources.

     “The high price of quality agricultural land in New Zealand and our remoteness to the rest of world means that even with the natural benefits of water and the link product has to New Zealand’s sustainable brand we are unlikely to be top of the list of preferred destinations for most international land investors currently looking for opportunities,” says Mr Proudfoot.

    In other words there is no need for SoF’s campaign because in spite of perceptions to the contrary, New Zealand farmland isn’t particularly attractive to foreign investors.

    Given that and our need for capital, those who want to come here should not be discouraged without good reason and not being citizens is not by itself a good reason.

     It is better for farming and New Zealand to allow, or not, sales of farm land to foreigners on a case by case basis than to cut off the investment and ideas which can mean foreign owners give far more to New Zealand than they take.

    The threat of foreign ownership is a perception, the threat to farms and their owners from a blanket ban on foreign ownership is real.


    They can’t take it away

    October 11, 2008

    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.


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