The Government is considering legislative changes in order to fast-track the review of 2.5 million hectares of Crown-owned land known as “stewardship land.” That is around nine per cent of New Zealand’s total land area! The proposed process is set to reduce public scrutiny, and favour those with vested interests. You have until Friday 18 March to have your say.
Made up of over 3,000 parcels, the stewardship land is part of the Department of Conservation (DoC) estate, but its conservation value is unknown. The Government has announced a package of measures to improve the process for the reclassification of this land.
The legislative changes under consideration would allow Government appointed “national expert panels” to produce technical assessments, hold public consultations, and make recommendations to the Minister of Conservation.
There are two possible outcomes for an area under consideration - reclassification under the Conservation, Reserve or National Parks Acts, or if the land is identified as having low or no conservation value, to be “disposed of”.
You can read the DoC 'Streamlining the stewardship land reclassification process' discussion document here.
As part of the legislative review, they are seeking feedback on options relating to:
- Improving consistency of public notification and submission processes.
- Enabling the national panels to carry out the public notification and submission process.
- Clarifying responsibilities for making recommendations to reclassify stewardship land as national park.
- Removing the statutory step to declare all stewardship land to be held for conservation purposes before it can be reclassified or disposed of.
- Enabling the Minister of Conservation to direct proceeds from the sale of stewardship land to DOC.
- Clarifying the status of concessions on reclassified stewardship land.
First up is a two-year programme to reclassify 1 million hectares in the South Island.
But not without Ngāi Tahu at the top table!
Immediately after the national expert panels were established last May, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu (TRoNT) filed urgent legal proceedings claiming the Crown had started the review process without the involvement of Ngāi Tahu as its Treaty partner. TRoNT withdrew legal proceedings when the Government established a Ngāi Tahu panel to “work alongside” the national panels.
While stating Ngāi Tahu environmental values must be protected and enhanced, Lisa Tumahai, chair of TRoNT, maintains the reclassification process will also determine whether some land can be made available for other purposes. Ngāi Tahu panellist Francois Tumahai is quoted in a Newsroom report: “The mana whenua panel works alongside the two national panels to share traditional mātauranga Māori of the whenua within the Ngāi Tahu takiwā, as well as information on mahinga kai, cultural interests, development opportunities, and our future aspirations to use the whenua.”
Now that Ngāi Tahu is in a position to directly influence the outcome of the reclassification process no doubt they will be casting covetous eyes over the land up for review.
Ngāi Tahu has a Right of First Refusal to purchase all “surplus” Crown land in the majority of the South Island. Being closely involved in the reclassification process, as well as having priority over land classified for disposal, brings into play the likelihood of serious conflict of interest issues to arise. This illustrates a common problem with co-governance and similar arrangements. Unlike the country's formal rules-based system where there is a clear distinction between political and private economic spheres, iwi political and economic structures are interlinked.
Why the rush?
The plan is to finish this huge undertaking within the next five years. The Government claims the national panels will not be making the final decision - that duty lies with the Minister of Conservation. However, with the sheer volume of recommendations passing across her desk, there will not be enough time for proper scrutiny by the Minister. This would likely be more of a rubber-stamping exercise than truly a decision-making one.
REDUCED PUBLIC CONSULTATION REQUIREMENTS
As well as working alongside the Ngāi Tahu panel, the two national panels must consult with whānau, hapū and iwi as tangata whenua. It is only when this is complete that the public will be notified and public consultation will commence. While the discussion document does not impose conditions on tangata whenua consultation, public consultation is set to be cut from 40 to 20 working days minimum. In addition, it will be up to the panels whether the consultation will include public hearings.
You can read the DoC discussion document ‘Stewardship Land in Aotearoa New Zealand’ November 2021 HERE.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
It is important we protect our conservation estate for future generations. Don't miss this chance to let the Government know that we want do not want to see our conservation land privatised. Have your say - you have until 18 March 2022.
Send your submission to [email protected] with the subject line: Streamlining the stewardship land reclassification process
Suggested points you could make in your submission:
- I suggest that the fast-tracked five-year time frame for classifying 3,000 parcels of stewardship land will not allow enough time for proper scrutiny - for detailed field assessments to be done, and due consideration to be undertaken. This could lead to poor decision-making.
- I urge the retaining of the statutory step declaring all stewardship land to be held for conservation purposes before it can be reclassified or disposed of.
- I request that the 3,000 parcels of land be gazetted, with an invitation to citizens to register for updates in relation to specific parcels or areas, thereby allowing for timely and informed public engagement.
- I believe the proposed 20 working days for public consultation is grossly inadequate. I support a longer timeframe to allow for serious consideration by the public.
- I support removing the proposed option for the national panels to decline a hearing.
- I am concerned about serious conflict of interest issues which are likely to arise with Ngāi Tahu being party to the recommendations to the Minister regarding the reclassification and disposal of stewardship land, as well as a significant commercial entity looking for opportunities for economic development.
Include in your submission:
- your name
- the name of your organisation, if you are submitting on behalf of an organisation
- your contact details – email preferred.
DoC have prepared a form with prompt questions to help you submit your response. Once completed, this can be sent to via email or printed and posted. See: Streamlining the stewardship land reclassification process
- DOC Discussion Document – Stewardship Land in Aotearoa New Zealand November 2021
- DOC Streamlining the stewardship land reclassification process
- Terms of Reference and Procedures for the Independent Expert National Panels
- Interactive map of conservation areas (includes all protected areas, click on a parcel to see its category): https://data.linz.govt.nz/x/xxdyUE
- Cabinet paper: Office of the Minister of Conservation Cabinet Business Committee Improving the process for reclassification of conservation portfolio stewardship land
- Ngāi Tahu panel to work on stewardship land reclassification