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Highest bidder locking gates on high country

Large tracts of celebrated New Zealand high country will be increasingly locked away by private owners if the Government does not act to protect access to land currently up for tenure review, said the Green Party.

Green Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons called on the Minster of Land Information to ensure that the public will still be able to use land due to be freeholded in the South Island high country to access the conservation lands beyond.

"When we considered the Crown Pastoral Lands Bill in 1998, we believed public access to conservation land would be maintained," said Ms Fitzsimons.

"However, the Commissioner for Crown Lands, responsible for tenure review, has stated that he is under no obligation to provide access when he arranges for land to be freeholded.

"It's absurd to think we have large tracts of beautiful and unique conservation land that people can't reach because private owners have bought the land that leads to them.

"The public access report confirms what New Zealand trampers have faced for years: the conservation estate is often blocked by private landowners who don't want to allow people to cross their land.

"Many of the new owners of the South Island estates currently being sliced up don't respect the New Zealand traditions of public access the way leaseholders mostly did," said Ms Fitzsimons.

Under the Crown Pastoral Lands Act, which set the rules of tenure review, access ways to recreational land are supposed to be created across freehold land - but this does not always happen.

"This land is held by many New Zealanders as embodying the essence of our country. Its high mountains, wide open tussock lands and braided rivers and clear streams are scenic and recreational assets prized throughout the world," said Ms Fitzsimons.

"It is essential that we retain access to them for all New Zealanders and that they are not increasingly enclosed for the benefit of private, increasingly foreign, owners.

"We welcome the Minister's statement that the policy surrounding freeholding of high country leasehold lands is to be reviewed and urge that he support, as we do, the finding of the Acland report that a more assured approach to access is needed," said Ms Fitzsimons.

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