F&G Criticises Overseas Investment Office Hunter Valley Decision as ‘Extraordinary’
The Otago Fish and Game Council is critical of the Overseas Investment Office decision on the sale of the Hunter Valley Station to a foreign buyer, describing it as “extraordinary” and gives the whole process a bad name.
The station controls access along Lake Hawea shore, to the recreationally valuable Hunter River and large areas of Department of Conservation land in the head of the Hunter Valley. Both Lake Hawea and the Hunter River support nationally important trout and salmon fisheries, with the Hunter River being classified as an outstanding backcountry fishery.
Niall Watson, the chief executive drof the Otago Fish and Game Council, says the Overseas Investment Office decision is hard to understand.
“The OIO’s decision is extraordinary given the volume of information on public access needs which was provided by environment and recreation groups like Fish and Game and Federated Mountain Clubs,” Mr Watson says.
“There has been a longstanding tradition of 4WD access by anglers into the valley at the discretion of the pastoral lessee. Anglers have also been able to launch boats in suitable locations near the homestead.
Niall Watson says protecting that recreational opportunity is important.
“Fish and Game understands it’s a working farm and expects such access to be managed around farming operations. We have not sought open vehicle access - that would not make sense in that location.
“But what has happened is that the OIO has fallen short – its decision only managed to offer resolution of one longstanding roading issue – access to Kidds Bush from the state highway - and a walking access easement to a local high point.
“The key issue of public access through the station to the Hunter River and conservation land beyond has been inadequately addressed and which offers no improvement on the status quo.”
Niall Watson says Fish and Game expected a secure legal easement and the OIO’s decision gives the process a bad name.
“What Fish and Game and other recreation organisations did want is for the Overseas Investment Office to properly implement the law governing such sales of sensitive land to foreign buyers.
“In the case of Hunter Valley Station, which is Crown pastoral lease, the land concerned is clearly ‘sensitive land’ as defined in the Overseas Investment Act because of its proximity to Lake Hawea, Hunter River and public conservation land.
“Indeed it must be amongst the most sensitive of sensitive lands given its spectacular location and the access it controls,” Mr Watson says.
Niall Watson says the OIO decision is all the more surprising because the American buyer was open to allowing better access.
“The applicant showed considerable good will in consulting extensively with stakeholders prior to the application and it is surprising to find so little of that input has translated into secure public access conditions in the OIO approval.”
Fish & Game says the Hunter Valley decision and the increasing restrictions on public access to public land is sadly becoming more common.
“Things have tightened up in recent years. It is a trend across the South Island high country as the reasons for owning high country properties broaden from pastoral farming to locations for exclusive holiday homes, luxury lodges and tourism based on proximity to high quality recreation including angling.
“These developments can result in public resources such as trout fisheries being captured,” Mr Watson says.
“This trend is impacting on traditional public use throughout the South Island high country and it needs to be counterbalanced by Government through available mechanisms – primarily the OIO properly scrutinising applications to purchase a slice of our high country.”
Niall Watson is optimistic there is still a chance to get things right on public access to Hunter Valley Station.
“The Commissioner of Crown Lands still has to approve the transfer of the station’s pastoral lease so there should be an opportunity to re-think the OIO decision and further engage with the purchaser over public access,” Mr Watson says.