The Government will axe the process that allows farmers to buy Crown pastoral land, claiming it has damaged native habitats and destroyed iconic South Island high country landscapes.
Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage made the announcement today after a Newsroom report that the tenure review process would be scrapped.
Tenure review is a voluntary process where Crown pastoral land can be sold to a leaseholder. The rest of the land returns to Crown ownership, usually for conservation purposes.
It has been heavily criticised as subjecting land - including native habitats - to intensive farming, and allowing people to buy Crown land and then sell it for huge profits; in some cases, the Crown has paid farmers to get freehold title because greater value was placed on their interest in the land.
Sage said about 353,000 hectares had been freeholded through tenure review.
"We have seen through tenure review major freeholding and major intensification, loss of landscape values ... the loss of tussock grass and shrublands.
"We want a high country where the landscape values are protected, and there's a long-term future for sustainable farming, and we protect nature as well."
She said the process had changed the iconic landscapes of the Mackenzie Basin.
"Also, land has been added to the conservation estate and protected as parks. But it's been a mixed bag, and it's been heavily criticised for many years."
She said there were 171 Crown pastoral leases - totalling 1.2 million hectares - remaining from the initial 303 leases, and these would be managed under the existing regulatory system.
She would not say if the Crown would pull out of the 30 properties still going through the tenure review process, saying only that they would be reviewed on a "case-by-case basis".
Land Information NZ recently released a critical internal report that said agencies were too focused on completing the process - "almost 'any deal is a good deal'" - and the system lacked transparency.
"Overall compliance, monitoring and enforcement are hampered by a lack of information – there is not much data on landuse, the state of the environment, or the effect of land use changes," the report said.
"LINZ is charged with, and is focused on, running the process, so has no information on what happens after tenure review. There is no systematic recording of ecological outcomes and as such, no way of using history to inform current practice.
"The processes are opaque and not well understood, and there is not widespread agreement that the system is fair."
Sage said the report helped to inform the Government's decision to axe tenure review.
She said farmers would not be too affected as the number of farmers in the process had declined.
She would make further announcements on the future management of Crown pastoral lands in the high country on Sunday.