The new law to replace the Foreshore and Seabed Act will require all applications for customary title to be made within six years of its enactment.

It also allows port companies to apply for private fee simple ownership of new reclamations.

And it changes the term "public domain" to "the common marine and coastal area".

Those are the main changes to the repeal plans that were announced in June by the Government.

The legislation, released last night, is called the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill.

It will have its first reading on Thursday and is expected to be passed by the end of the year, with the support of the Maori Party.

The Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 extinguished Maori rights to test customary title in the courts, after a Court of Appeal decision in 2002, and the Government asserted Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed.

The new law will repeal the old act and restore the right of iwi to claim customary title in court.

The Crown ownership will now be relinquished and declared to be "the Common Marine and Coastal Area".

It will remain as common land unless a customary title application is successful and then it will be legally owned by the relevant iwi.

The title will extend from the wet area of the beach to 12 nautical miles from shore.

It is an ownership title, but with the caveat that it cannot be sold and that public access must be guaranteed and be free, Attorney-General Chris Finlayson said.

"Our rights as New Zealanders in the marine and coastal area are not in conflict with each other.

"This bill reflects that reality.

"Recognising and protecting those rights does not require the right to exclude others."

The existing 12,500 private titles in the foreshore and seabed remain unaffected by the legislation.

Iwi will also be given the right to avoid court costs and instead enter direct negotiations with the Crown in what Mr Finlayson said would be an open process.

"Any negotiated settlement would be done in a transparent manner and applicants must meet the same threshold tests in the legislation," the Attorney-General said.

To gain customary title, applicants must prove:

* They have had exclusive use and occupation of the areas.

* The exclusive use and occupation has been held from 1840 until the present without substantial interruption.

* The area for which they are seeking title is held in accordance with tikanga (custom).

Apart from the access and sale caveats, customary title will give iwi the rights that other legal owners have.

These will include the ownership of non-nationalised minerals (for example, ironsand), the right to initiate developments (subject to the Resource Management Act), and the right to permit or decline activities requiring a resource consent in the area covered by the titles.=