Sunday, August 14, 2022

Pastoral lessees wary of CPLA changes

Neal Wallace
Pastoral lessees are uncertain what the impact will be of new public access provisions about to become law.

High Country Accord chair Philip Todhunter says while there have been some subtle changes to the access provision, he says there is still much that is uncertain about how it will be implemented.

Pastoral lessees are uncertain what the impact will be of new public access provisions about to become law.

The Crown Pastoral Lands Act (CPLA) is before Parliament’s Committee of the Whole, but while there have been some late changes to new public access rules, pastoral lease leaders say they are nervous how they will work in practice.

A Land Information NZ (LINZ) spokesperson says changes to the public access provision were made in response to public submissions to the Select Committee considering the Bill.

Those provisions were subsequently amended as having a negative impact on leaseholder’s property rights.

The Bill is still being scrutinised but is expected to become law within the next couple of months.

Changes to the CPLA, which farmers say fundamentally changes the relationship between lessees and the Crown, include an ability for public access to be renegotiated when a pastoral lease is either sold or ownership is transferred.

High Country Accord chair Philip Todhunter says while there have been some subtle changes to the access provision, he says there is still much that is uncertain about how it will be implemented.

He said public submissions and complaints about access will be collated against each pastoral lease and then considered by the Commissioner of Crown Lands (CCL) when ownership of that lease is processed.

He said how the CCL will assess and process those requests is unknown, especially when there could be unintended consequences, such as interrupting livestock management and farming activities.

The additional consideration of increasing access could also delay or impact the process of selling or transferring a lease.

“It’s potentially a can of worms how the commissioner will go about that process,” Todhunter said.

He believes access is not an issue on a vast number of properties, although he notes many groups want access to enjoy developments by lessees such as tracks and huts.

He also notes the public estate has expanded exponentially, much of which borders pastoral leases.

He said changes to the CPLA will create a heavier bureaucratic process requiring more insight from the CCL, but it also changes the status of the relationship between landlord and lessee.

Leasehold land is not public land because lessees have a 33-year lease with a perpetual right of renewal.

Lessees also have the right to pasturage and quiet enjoyment and Todhunter said the new Act replaces the existing role of lessees in managing the land with bureaucracy.

“The commissioner says (changes are) all about conservation and looking after the environment, but the people looking after the environment and doing the conservation are the lessees,” he said.

A LINZ spokesperson says the Bill will require the CCL, when assessing whether to consent to the transfer or subleasing of a pastoral lease, to consider whether past requests for public access over the land have been unreasonably refused by the current leaseholder.  

“If the commissioner decides this has been the case, they could make the transfer of the lease subject to the condition that the new lessees must enter into a negotiation process with the CCL, with the intention that access requests will not be unreasonably refused after the transfer.

“The provision is intended to strike a balance between promoting reasonable access onto Crown pastoral lease land, while also respecting leaseholders’ property rights.”

A standard or directive detailing how this will be done in consultation with leaseholders, iwi, other interest groups.

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