Law change allowing easier sales of conservation land won't happen on my watch, Sage says

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage.Photo by Lynn Grieveson

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage says she won't review law that was held to prevent her department from ceding conservation land in a swap deal, thwarting the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme last year.

Former Prime Minister Bill English had promised a review of the Department of Conservation's legislation last year after DOC and the Hawkes Bay Regional Council failed to challenge a court ruling against a land swap deal that was crucial to the water storage dam. But the new government has taken a hands-off approach to the conservation estate.

"I have no proposals to review the Conservation Act to make the disposal of conservation land easier," she said. "The Supreme Court has enunciated the law on this."

Sage's predecessor, National's Maggie Barry, had delegated authority for Ruataniwha to DOC Director-General Lou Sanson, who had said at the time the land swap stacked up from a conservation perspective. DOC and the Hawke's Bay Regional Council subsequently failed in the Supreme Court to overturn a Court of Appeal ruling that the decision to revoke was made for an improper purpose.

"Both courts held that the decision to revoke was made for an improper purpose (to facilitate the exchange) and that the specially protected status of the land could not be revoked if that area possessed the values for which the land was given special protection," Sage said.

A chapter closed on the Ruataniwha scheme yesterday with the announcement that rights to some $27 million of local and central government-funded research and development work had been sold to three Hawkes Bay businessmen for $100,000. The body of work includes resource consents that run through until 2025.