After winning a four-year legal battle against the Southland District Council (SDC) last year, Te Anau Downs Station has received compensation to the tune of $300,000 – but it’s a bittersweet payout for third-generation farmer Peter Chartres.
Last April, the SDC went to the Environment Court seeking an enforcement order to prevent any further indigenous vegetation clearance on the station and to require significant remedial work. However, in late 2022 the court released a detailed 107-page decision declining the council’s application for an enforcement order.
When the court passed down its ruling in October, Judge P A Steven and Environment Commissioner J T Baines noted Te Anau Downs, which has been the Chartres family home since 1925, is a large, complex landholding involving thousands of hectares, a wide range of farming and income-generating activities and many methods of vegetation clearance.
The station’s high-profile location (which was used as one of the film locations for the 2013 fantasy adventure film The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) meant the clearance of regrowth vegetation had led to regular complaints from Forest & Bird and “brutal” trials by social media, Chartres said.
At the time of the ruling, Chartres welcomed it clearing him of unlawful clearances dating back to 2001 and said the council’s approach had been “overzealous” and his family was “treated like criminals”.
However, during a recent interview, Chartres admits that while being compensated was vindicating, “it is disappointing that the ratepayers will have to bear the $300,000 costs awarded to me and the more than $500,000 costs that the council spent on its case”.