East Coast communities concerned about farmland sell-offs

Source: 1News

Iwi and community leaders on the East Coast are deeply concerned about the loss of farming land to overseas forestry use.

Vast areas of productive land are being converted into carbon farms, where trees are planted to soak up carbon from the atmosphere to help reach our emissions targets but there's concern the cost is too high for our rural communities.

Huiarua and Matanui stations represent more than 6000 hectares of prime East Coast sheep and beef farmland.

But the neighbouring stations are set to make way for a forestry project by Ikea holding company Ingka.

The sale drew criticism from locals who presented a petition with 8,000 signatures to local MP Kiri Allan on May 13th to stop the sale.

The Overseas Investment Office sale report released to 1News under the Official Information Act shows the transaction was consented under special criteria where the land is to be used exclusively for forestry and is unlikely to be converted for residential use.

The report concluded the sale was not a transaction of national interest or significance.

Ngāti Porou iwi leader Hilton Collier said he was disappointed iwi and local views weren’t given greater consideration.

“It might not have national significance on their judgement but certainly for Ngāti Porou anything within our rohe is significant.

“There was one meeting with Ingka and their local representatives. When Ngāti Porou consults, it's not a 30-minute conversation in a boardroom and a tick a box.

“When you lose staff of the size of that property it has major implications on our local townships,” Collier said.

The Land Information Minister, Damien O’Connor, was one approval signatory on the report and says the decision came down to private property rights.

“They were two very good farms, not of national significance, there are many other big farms around the country, these are located in tough country, nonetheless they were good farms - certainly it was sad for me to sign-off, but the law allowed that and the people who owned it chose to sell,” O’Connor said.

The law has since been toughened, overseas investments must now be assessed to be of benefit to New Zealand.

Ingka Investments declined an interview with 1News but provided a statement saying the purchase of the land is an investment in the region and is not a carbon farm.

“We do not sell carbon credits, so ‘carbon farming’ is not an objective for Ingka Investments.

“We plan to be in New Zealand for a long time – we won’t see a return on our afforestation efforts for 27 years, - and we hope to be a good neighbour. We want to hire locally, buy locally, think locally.”

Collier says he hopes the way the whenua is sold in future will continue to support its people.

“We see ourselves firstly as guardians of the land and as guardians we have a joint responsibility and duty of care to make sure the land endures.

“One thing I know for sure is Ngāti Porou will still be here in 100 years, I’m not so sure about the other people,” Collier said.