JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki)
: I move,
That the Waitaki District Council Reserves and Other Land Empowering Bill be now read a first time. I nominate that the Local Government and Environment Committee consider the Waitaki District Council Reserves and Other Land Empowering Bill. The items contained in this Waitaki District Council local bill have been a long time coming to this House. Although, on the face of it, when we read the bill the matters contained look relatively dry and of a legal nature, actually the impact on the people whom it affects is quite strong. So to those people I have talked to, and to whom the matters in this bill relate, I am very pleased for their sake that tonight we have commenced the parliamentary part and the scrutiny of this local bill.
The bill contains three matters and I will run through them in turn. The first one relates to the Palmerston Showgrounds. This bill revokes the reservation of part lot 7, known as the Palmerston Showgrounds, under the Reserves Act 1977 and vests ownership of that land in the Waitaki District Council. The history of this item is that the council entered into an agreement for the sale and purchase of the Palmerston Showgrounds with the current lessees of the showgrounds in the year 2000. However, the problem was that the reserve status of the property gives effective ownership of the Palmerston Showgrounds to the Crown as a Crown-owned reserve. Ngāi Tahu and the Department of Conservation have consented to the sale of the Palmerston Showgrounds by the Crown to the council. The council, in turn, on the passage of this bill, considers it appropriate to regularise the occupation of the current lessees—that is, a family—of the Palmerston Showgrounds. It is going to do that by revoking its reserve status, freeing it of all express and implied reservations or restrictions—which, of course, it has under the Reserves Act 1977—and vesting ownership of the property in the council absolutely. The council may then consider selling the property to the current lessees. That is the first item contained in this bill.
The second item is a lot in Ōāmaru township itself, and that is lot 1 under the Reserves Act—DP 345820, to be specific—which will come under scrutiny by the select committee. Again, the bill vests ownership in the current registered proprietors. So the ownership will not be vested in the council; this item in the bill vests ownership with the current proprietors, who will then become the owners of that property. I know that this particular part of the bill is really important to that family, who I know are very concerned that it goes through this Parliament.
At the time that the council entered into an agreement for the sale and purchase of the freehold of this property, which was in 2004, the council was unaware of the reserve status of the property, which gave effective ownership of the property to the Crown. Ngāi Tahu, again, and the Department of Conservation have consented to the revocation of the reserve status and the ratification of the sale of the freehold property by the council to the original registered proprietors, who will then, on the passage of this bill, become the owners and they will be very glad to do so.
Those are the first two items contained in the bill, and the third item contained in this bill relates to Forrester Heights, which is also locally known as Lookout Point. It is a parcel of land that looks north-east, down on to the Ōāmaru Harbour, and currently is a relatively steep bank that is under grass and a bit of scrub. It is quite a nice parcel of land, as it happens.
There was a historical error made by the former borough essentially in relation to semantics. The land was originally purchased by the Government from Ngāi Tahu in 1848 as a part of the Kemp purchase. The land was included in the original subdivision of the town of Ōāmaru. Ōāmaru is a historic town, and this was part of the original subdivision. In 1885 the land was set aside as an endowment in aid of the funds for the benefit of the then Ōāmaru Borough Council, a predecessor to the Waitaki District Council, in accordance with section 38 of the Land Act 1877.
Now we come to the interesting part of the bill. An administrative oversight that occurred in 1937 mistakenly vested that parcel of land as a reserve. Reserve status and endowment status are two completely separate concepts, and the local borough of the day may not have been fully aware of this or appreciated its importance back in 1937. So the confusion that surrounds the status of this land is largely a result of language, or semantics. The land was reserved as an endowment in 1885, but it was not intended that the land was ever to be classified as reserve itself with the consequent encumbrances on that land, which have now become apparent with the passage of time. This bill
addresses the clerical error made in 1937 by clarifying the status of the land as an endowment.
The Waitaki District Council has been working with Land Information New Zealand, together with Ngāi Tahu, the Department of Conservation, and the Commissioner of Crown Lands. I have been involved and so has parliamentary counsel on this matter. All those parties have consented to the content of the bill and to the objectives of the bill. It is worth noting that Ngāi Tahu have taken considerable advice on this issue. They have confirmed to the Waitaki District Council that their view is that the council has a right to freehold title to the land and that the land is, therefore, not subject to the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998.
So there you have it. It is, on the face of it, a perhaps pedestrian and technical bill to do with three matters, but I can tell members that as far as the locals are concerned, this bill is of great interest. I can assure the House that the Local Government and Environment Committee will give it its closest consideration. I commend the bill to the House.
PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū)
: Labour supports the Waitaki District Council Reserves and Other Land Empowering Bill to go to the Local Government and Environment Committee, as we do with almost all local bills that come to this House. I want to acknowledge the member for Waitaki. She is doing her job as a local MP, bringing this bill to the House on behalf of her constituents.
It is appropriate that local bills deal with matters like this, and we note that the Waitaki District Council has requested that the House help it by regularising the status of three pieces of land, which the member for Waitaki has been outlining for us. The council tells us that mistakes were made—“clerical errors”, in the words of the member for Waitaki. The council now wants Parliament to sort the problem out for it.
I do note that another bill is still before this House, the Reserves and Other Lands Disposal Bill, which I think contains provisions that would do the job required for two of these blocks of land. But, for some reason, since this Government was elected in 2008 that bill has languished at the bottom of the Order Paper and progress has not been made. The poor member for Waitaki has been forced to bring this local bill to the House. Nevertheless, Labour supports this bill going to select committee, but I want to sound a note of concern about one of the three blocks of land that this bill deals with. In respect of the reserve land that is being vested in private interests and is the subject of significant controversy and argument in Ōāmaru, I think that deserves proper scrutiny and debate at select committee, and I will devote some of my remaining time to dealing with that issue.
The Palmerston Showgrounds, I think, was a pretty straightforward case. The reserve status was discovered when the council found that the block of land did not appear on its electronic database. The council wants to sell it to the current lessees, and, in fact, it thought it had sold it and then found that it had not; it had only purported to sell it, but the land is still legally a reserve. The second block of land dealt with by this bill is at the northern end of Ōāmaru, and the council tells us that a technical error occurred when the status of the land was changed from recreational to commercial. As Jacqui Dean told us, both Ngāi Tahu and the Department of Conservation have expressed support for the changes in this bill. The land at the northern end of Ōāmaru was in fact sold, or purported to be sold, by the council in 2004, and has since been onsold to another proprietor. This second block, as well, would have its reserve status revoked by this bill. Its title would be vested in the current proprietors.
It is altogether more interesting for us to talk about Lookout Point, also known as Forrester Heights. It is controversial. It has been dogged by disputes all the way along, and continues to be the subject of much argument locally. The council believes that a
mistake was made in 1937. It discovered that apparent mistake in 2006. It says that the mistake was made after the land was originally set aside in 1885 by the Government as endowment land, and, as the member explained, the status in fact conferred on that land was reserve land. The council wants that reserve status to be revoked so that the land can be sold and subdivided. That idea has been contested vigorously by individuals and groups, including Waitaki Ratepayers and Concerned Citizens and the Friendly Bay Society. They oppose changing the designation, and they maintain the land was always intended to be a reserve and should not be subdivided. The chairman of Waitaki Ratepayers and Concerned Citizens, Mr Warren Crawford, told the
Otago Daily Times earlier this year that the group continued to oppose the subdivision. It believed the land should be retained as a reserve and planted in native trees.
This is a classic case of land that some people, at least in the local community, believe is publicly owned land and that it should be preserved for the public good and maintained as a community asset. On the other hand, we have the Waitaki District Council and presumably others in the community who believe it was always intended to be developed for private use and private gain. The land is going to be subdivided. It is a 5.8 hectare subdivision overlooking Ōāmaru Harbour, the town, and the coast. A profit of $3 million from the subdivision has been earmarked by the council to pay for a $10 million refurbishment of the Ōāmaru Opera House. As I said, it has been dogged by dispute. It is a matter of considerable controversy in the town, and we on this side of the House believe it is important that—
Hon Trevor Mallard: The Ōāmaru Opera House? I remember that story.
PHIL TWYFORD: Maybe the select committee should go to the Ōāmaru Opera House.
The reason why we think this deserves scrutiny is that when National comes to this House with a bill that proposes to alienate public land and transfer it into private ownership, the alarm bells ring on this side of the House. The National Government has form on this issue. This is the Government that has made an art form of transferring public resources into private hands. We see it in many, many bills that come to this House. We have seen it in the way that it has made asset sales its primary—
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The time has come for the dinner adjournment. I shall resume the Chair at 7.30 p.m.
- Sitting suspended from 6 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.
PHIL TWYFORD: We are discussing this evening the Waitaki District Council Reserves and Other Land Empowering Bill. As I was saying before the break, Labour is supporting this bill going to the Local Government and Environment Committee, but we do so with the intention that elements of this seemingly uncontroversial bill should get proper scrutiny at the select committee.
I was focusing my comments before the dinner break on one of the three blocks of land, which is known as Forrester Heights or Lookout Point. Like the other two blocks of land dealt with by this bill, the Waitaki District Council believes that administrative errors were conferred on the block’s reserve status when, in fact, it should have been treated as an endowment. Now the council wants to dispose of the land, and Lookout Point has been earmarked for a subdivision, a 5.8 hectare subdivision, 27 sections on Cape Wanbrow, which is above Ōāmaru Harbour.
The reason that we think this deserves scrutiny at select committee is that it involves the disposal of publicly owned assets for private gain. Taken at face value, that may be perfectly fine, but, as I was saying before, the party on that side of the House has form in this area. It believes that selling assets is our national economic development strategy, and it is quite happy to dispose of assets in the public good for private gain.
There is another bill that we recently sent off to select committee, a local bill, the South Taranaki District Council (Cold Creek Rural Water Supply) Bill, which involves transferring a council-owned water supply scheme into private hands. There are all sorts of allegations surrounding that bill, of improper pressure brought to bear on the local council, and a good deal of local controversy.
So I think there is reason to tread carefully. It is all too easy for lawyers, councillors, politicians, and real estate agents to use their informal relationships and networks to extract private gain from public resources. I think it is a fundamental principle of our democracy that our public resources should be managed in the public good and in the public interest, and that is something that we should fiercely protect. So that is the principle at stake. We support this local bill brought to the House by Jacqui Dean, we support it going to the Local Government and Environment Committee, and we look forward to properly scrutinising the provisions of this bill.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: This is a 5-minute call, starting with Nikki Kaye.
NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central)
: I am very pleased to speak on the Waitaki District Council Reserves and Other Land Empowering Bill. I would like to start by acknowledging the local member of Parliament for Waitaki, Jacqui Dean. What we are seeing within this piece of legislation is the initiative of a local MP—and obviously this bill is to do with the local authority for Waitaki—who has done her work, she has done her research, and she is doing what she thinks is best for the community.
What we are going to be talking about this evening is three pieces of land. Contrary to what the Opposition has said—it has talked about the transfer of assets as such a bad thing—we all know that across local authorities across New Zealand every day there are situations where assets are transferred between local authorities and public citizens. This is not a scary thing that happens. This is something that happens every day. But in this situation, and this is why we are currently here before Parliament, we are dealing with three parcels of land. I want to just take us through those three parcels of land first, because I think there are some unique situations around each of them.
But the first thing I want to do is also acknowledge again that you have got a hard-working, diligent MP who has done her research, worked with the local authority, worked with Ngāi Tahu and iwi, and come up with a proposition so that this can go to a select committee, people can have their voice heard, but also put on the parliamentary record what has happened with regard to these three pieces of land. Contrary to the Opposition members who say this is a very scary thing that is before Parliament, members on this side believe actually this is a well-researched piece of legislation by a good local MP.
So the first parcel of land that we are dealing with—
Scott Simpson: Who was that local MP?
NIKKI KAYE: The local member is Jacqui Dean, just so members and anyone listening can hear what a great local member of Parliament she is. The first piece of land that we are talking about is the Palmerston Showgrounds piece of land. The provisions will allow Waitaki District Council to sell the land to current lessees. The second is a piece of land called lot 1. This will allow the Waitaki District Council to regularise the sale of the section to the current registered proprietors, and allow title to their property to be unencumbered by any notation relating to the Reserves Act. That does not sound scary to me. Does that sound scary to other members?
Scott Simpson: Not at all. Not at all.
NIKKI KAYE: Not at all. There are situations right across New Zealand that happen on a regular basis with local authorities, where situations arise where they transfer parcels of land. For the record, let me just say that on this side of the House we understand that actually sometimes to grow your assets and to improve your asset base
you might actually do transfers. It is a radical notion—it is a radical notion—but New Zealanders do it every single day in their households and with their businesses, and that is all that the Parliament is dealing with in this piece of straightforward legislation.
I just want to deal with the third piece of land, because this piece of land—and Mr Twyford has mentioned it, but also the local MP for Waitaki, Jacqui Dean, has mentioned it—is where there has been a fair amount of discussion in the public domain. This piece of land has been referred to as Forrester Heights, but is also known as Lookout Point. It is a lovely piece of land. I have never been there, but I have as a student when I was travelling to Dunedin travelled through the beautiful town of Ōāmaru. I was delighted when I was doing my research this evening, because I was not aware that you can catch a live show at an opera house, and that you can spoil yourself with some lovely made soap and with a cheese platter at the local cheese factory, and I just want to acknowledge that this evening.
But with regard to this Lookout Point piece of land, what happened here was that it was originally purchased by the Government from Ngāi Tahu in 1948 as part of the Kemp purchase. There was an administrative oversight in 1937, which mistakenly vested the land in the Waitaki District Council as a reserve. What actually happened here was that the land was vested as a reserve, but what was meant to happen was that it was an endowment. It basically got reserve status, and it was supposed to be reserved as an endowment. So we see this as a clerical issue.
However, we acknowledge that it is really important for people to have their voices heard. We do understand that this bill has come to Parliament because the Waitaki District Council believes that it is an important piece of legislation to have in Parliament, and because Ngāi Tahu have recognised that they have confirmed this view. So I am very pleased to support this bill going to a select committee, and I commend it to the House.
Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour)
: Far from this legislation, the Waitaki District Council Reserves and Other Land Empowering Bill, being progressed quickly, I think the member for Waitaki has been in that role for 7 years—she beat me, congratulations—and this issue has been outstanding since then. Indeed, I was the Minister for Land Information after Jacqui knocked me off my perch, and this issue was raised with me in respect of Forrester Heights. I was embarrassed that it took 2 years for me to get it into legislation because it was incumbent upon me as the Minister for Land Information to check that the council was right that this was endowment land that could be used for whatever financial purpose the council wanted, rather than reserve land. So I, as is the proper thing, got the Department of Conservation to check—twice, in fact—as to whether this was properly endowment land rather than reserve land. If it was given for reserve purposes then it cannot just be changed at the whim of the council and put to some other purpose. After 2 years I did get it in the Reserves and Other Lands Disposal Bill, which has been languishing on the Order Paper under this Government for 4 years.
Far from this not being solvable in respect of Forrester Heights—and I know that Jacqui Dean on the other side has the decency to smile, because we both sat on the Government Administration Committee that looked at the Reserves and Other Lands Disposal Bill, which is still on the Order Paper but has never been advanced in the last 4 years by the Government. Far from the member for Waitaki having exerted vast influence on this, it is belatedly coming to us.
The issue here is whether it is properly endowment land, rather than reserve land. If it is endowment land, then it is fine for the council to sell it; it is the council’s choice. Whether individual members of this House might agree or otherwise, the council is devolved with responsibility for that decision at a local government level. It wants to
sell it to help defray the costs of its opera house. It is a very nice piece of reserve land that sits above the historic precinct and looks out over the Ōāmaru harbour.
If it is properly reserve land rather than endowment land, then it ought not to be sold. I understand that that is still a matter of controversy, notwithstanding the Department of Conservation’s investigations at the time. I am told that someone has now uncovered a letter from Parliament—this Parliament—many, many years ago, when there was an early proposal by the council to sell this land. Parliament wrote to the council and said: “I’m sorry, you can’t do that. It is reserve land, intended to be reserve land rather than endowment land.” I have not seen the letter. I am told it exists. If it exists, it should come out at the Local Government and Environment Committee. If it comes out at the select committee, this legislation probably ought not to proceed. If, on the other hand, that evidence is not available at the select committee and we have the other evidence—that is, the Department of Conservation inquiry into the history of this, which suggested that it was endowment land as originally intended rather than reserve land way back when—then the councillor and the member are correct. This ought to go to the select committee. That is the question that is at large, and I look forward to the consideration of it.
The other issue, in respect of the Palmerston Showgrounds, is, by comparison, less significant. I do not know that there is any controversy surrounding that.
But in respect of this reserve land, the second thing I would say needs to be checked at the select committee is I know there are local concerns that the reclassification of land will extend beyond the Forrester Heights block that is intended for subdivision and will extend to some of the other land that goes beyond that towards the seawards side, over towards the old gun emplacements and things. I do not think it is in dispute that that is reserved reserve land, rather than endowment land. There is some suspicion amongst some of the people around Ōāmaru that through this process that land will be reclassified too. I do not think that is a valid concern, but I think that those concerns should be assuaged at the select committee by people having the ability to participate in an open process. The big issue is whether this is reserve or endowment land, and there is still uncertainty around that point.
EUGENIE SAGE (Green)
: I am pleased to take a short call on this Waitaki District Council Reserves and Other Land Empowering Bill. I congratulate the member for Waitaki, Jacqui Dean, on representing her community and bringing the bill to this House. In my short time here I have noticed that small local bills that might, on their surface, seem uncontroversial can actually reveal a range of issues beneath them when they get to select committee and when the public has an opportunity to make submissions. I suspect that this bill may be one of those.
The Green Party will be supporting this bill going to the Local Government and Environment Committee. As others in the House have explained, it does seek to rectify several drafting errors. As the Hon David Parker has noted—and I thank him for explaining a bit more of the history of the third piece of land at Forrester Heights—the first two changes in the bill are uncontroversial. They seek to fix errors by the Waitaki District Council in purporting to sell land that the council did not, in fact, have the power to sell. Obviously, those errors have implications for the current occupiers of the land, so should be resolved. Similarly, with the land under the former caretaker’s cottage at the Palmerston Showgrounds, that also has been sold, purportedly, and it was not clear then that it was the Crown rather than the council that had title to the land. So that error should also be corrected.
The land at Forrester Heights and Lookout Point, as its name suggests, has got spectacular views of the coast and of the harbour. It is said by the Waitaki District Council that it was an administrative error way back in 1937 when the letter “d” was
omitted from the word “reserved”, so the land become reserve rather than endowment land and open to the Ōāmaru Borough Council then to do whatever with it. This change in this bill, which concerns a lot of local people, has much wider implications because, of course, by vesting the land with the council as endowment land, the council can sell it. Even on the council website there is a very attractive brochure that promotes the Forrester Heights subdivision as having spectacular sea views, being north-facing, sun-drenched, safe, secluded, and sheltered. To me, that suggests that the land has quite important scenic and amenity values, which the community may well want to hold in public ownership. So I look forward to the submissions from the community when this bill comes before the select committee about whether the reserve status has, in fact, been incorrectly given, and whether the land should stay as reserve and should stay in public ownership.
It was also instructive to look at the council’s draft long-term plan. The council pointed out that it was having to increase its rates and increase its revenue generation—and the Forrester Heights subdivision proposal is part of the council’s property plan process—because of increased insurance costs and also because of reduced Government funding for local roads. As other members have mentioned, this money from Forrester Heights may be going to the opera house, but the fact that the council is having to sell potential assets because of reduced Government funding highlights what this Government is doing with local government. Not only is it reducing the funding for local roads but also it is seeking to interfere more in local government and direct local government through the extensive powers that the bill we considered yesterday is giving to the Minister of Local Government. Potentially, he will push councils and direct them to sell more assets such as this important land at Forrester Heights.
Because of the potential can of worms that there may be in relation to the status of the land, I look forward to the bill being considered by the select committee and to hearing public submissions on it. Thank you.
DENIS O’ROURKE (NZ First)
: First of all, the Palmerston Showgrounds are in fact reserve under the Reserves Act 1977 and, hence, Crown land. The Waitaki District Council has applied for the reserve status to be revoked so that it can sell the land. It has Department of Conservation and Ngāi Tahu consent, but there is insufficient information, as far as I am concerned, in the explanatory note of the Waitaki District Council Reserves and Other Land Empowering Bill. It appears that the land was sold to the current lessees in May 2000, even though it was a reserve. We are not told why the showgrounds are being sold in that way, but the revocation as a reserve was publicly notified and there were, in fact, no objections. We presume that the land is no longer needed as showgrounds, but you would not know that from the information that we are given.
I think that perhaps Parliament is being regarded, to some extent, as a rubber stamp in this matter. It is unclear what is really happening. We are first of all told that there was a purported sale in May 2000, then we are told that the council resolved to sell to the lessees in April 2004, subject to the surrender of the lease. Yet we are also told that the land is to be vested in the Crown subject to the lease “so that the council may consider selling the property to the current lessees.” So I am not sure what has actually happened here, and the explanatory note is as clear as mud. It is very confusing indeed. However, it does appear that the bill will regularise the council’s errors in this matter, and we must assume that this is appropriate. I hope that the committee will have a good look at the reasons behind it.
Secondly, the bill also deals with lot 1 on DP345820. Again, the council sold a reserve—purportedly sold it—and it was in fact transferred, and transferred again and again. The bill will vest the land legally in the current proprietors, and the Department
of Conservation and Ngāi Tahu have consented. Again, there is no real explanation why the reserve status is not needed and why the land was originally purportedly sold. There has been no public notification, and we are left again to presume that the reasons for the revocation and sale are valid. Again, I hope that the Local Government and Environment Committee will investigate this, because there is nothing in the bill as presented, or in the explanations I have heard, that would justify it.
Thirdly, the Lookout Point land, which was originally endowment land for the Ōāmaru borough—now the Waitaki District Council—was, apparently, erroneously made a reserve, and a title was issued with a reserve memorial on it. Hence there is said to be confusion about whether the land is a reserve or not. But, once again, there is little or no explanation about the claim of confusion as to whether this land was genuinely to be a reserve or was to be just endowment land for the council. As a matter of fact, however, the Order in Council of 1937 did make the land a reserve. So it is indisputably, in fact, actually a reserve, and therefore the council should, in my view, have to go through the usual process to revoke a reserve, involving full public consultation and the full formal process for that to happen. There is no information, again, why this reserve status should be revoked in this case. There has in fact been absolutely no public notification, no Department of Conservation consent, and no Ngāi Tahu consent.
Jacqui Dean: Read the bill.
DENIS O’ROURKE: So we are not told why the Waitaki District Council wants to sell. I have just heard opposite that there is information there. But I have read everything I can find on it, and I say that there is not any information about that, and that the full process should have been gone through. So, overall, New Zealand First objects to the introduction of this bill without adequate information, without clear reasons for the revocation of reserve status, without evidence of public notification, and without the usual due process. But New Zealand First will support the bill going to the select committee so that a more comprehensive explanation of all the circumstances behind these three pieces of land can be given, and so that we can have a good and proper look at whether the bill should in fact be passed.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson)
: I want to compliment David Parker, Eugenie Sage, and also Denis O’Rourke on those thoughtful contributions on this bill, the Waitaki District Council Reserves and Other Land Empowering Bill. I also want to compliment Jacqui Dean, the sponsor of this bill. Jacqui Dean, in my view, is one of the most activist local members of Parliament that we have in Parliament. She has done some magnificent work in terms of the twilight reserve in the Mackenzie Country, which was announced earlier this week. There is the Mackenzie Sustainable Futures Trust, which she has been the flag bearer for, as well as initiatives such as this bill. I also note her bill in respect of Easter trading and the exemptions that she is trying to get for her community. She is a very effective member of Parliament for Waitaki.
I want to make three points about this bill. The first of those is that it is interesting that when one of the really hot bills of the week is about being able to sell assets and buy others—in the form of the Mixed Ownership Model Bill, which I think we will be debating tomorrow—there is a pretty strong consensus within the Parliament that it is actually really sensible for public entities, whether they be councils or otherwise, to sell some land and to use that asset to do other things. In this case the member has promoted the view that these 10 hectares of land could quite suitably be sold, and that the money should be used to fund things like the opera house in Ōāmaru—a magnificent building and actually a project that Jacqui Dean worked on as the deputy mayor of that community of Ōāmaru.
I just have to ask the question of members opposite: where is all the rhetoric about no asset sales? I thought asset sales were the end of the world! I keep seeing these brochures everywhere: “Labour Stands, New Zealand First Stands, and the Greens Stand For Absolutely No Asset Sales”. And yet we have a bill here that is to facilitate the sale of land to allow communities to be able to rejig their capital balance sheets and use these assets. It might have been appropriate in the 19th century for them to be owned by a public entity, but actually subdividing and selling the land, and putting that asset into other things is perfectly logical. I just challenge the members opposite: if the logic applies to councils being able to sell these three blocks of land and use that money for other assets, is that not exactly what this Government is doing tomorrow with the Mixed Ownership Model Bill? I am just hoping that Eugenie Sage, Denis O’Rourke, and David Parker will reflect on the sensible speeches that they have given this evening, and will make sure that they do the same tomorrow.
The second point I want to make is that I actually think in the debate about local government—and I was fascinated when we debated the bill yesterday—that members are saying that we should give local communities more say over their future, and that local democracy is what it is all about. Well, if we have local democracy, should not councils be able to rejig the mix of land and reserves that they have in their communities so that they work best for the area? I think it is horribly bureaucratic. The reality is that many of our reserves and blocks of lands that were set aside were set aside for the needs of communities 100 years ago—you know, those smatterings of little reserves that get negligible use. It would actually be really sensible for us to give councils more flexibility and more local democracy to be able to make decisions on blocks of land like this. Really, we should be reflecting on why it is that it requires a bill of Parliament for the local Waitaki council to change the status of 10 hectares of land. Should we not as parliamentarians really be reflecting on whether our laws actually do give local democracy and do let councils have a say about their areas of land and how they might be more usefully used for communities as they manage their assets?
I am a member of the Local Government and Environment Committee. I am going to look forward to hearing the community on this bill. I really do encourage this House around those issues of local democracy, sensible utilisation of communities’ assets, and rationalisation. It is really good, sensible policy that is being promoted here by Jacqui Dean. I just hope that the consensus that the Parliament can find on this bill can be found on other bills, because it is good, sensible policy.
Dr DAVID CLARK (Labour—Dunedin North)
: I think the member who has just taken his seat, Nick Smith, has demonstrated clearly that he has not been following the debate so far. Many of the points he accused us of not covering were covered very eloquently by my colleague Phil Twyford earlier in the debate. I shall come further to the matter of asset sales, which he raised, as I continue.
This issue of Forrester Heights is an issue of concern for many locals, and that is why we in the Labour Party are keeping a close eye on it. The question of whether it is properly reserve land or endowment land is a live question, as my colleague the Hon David Parker alluded to earlier. The Waitaki ratepayers and concerned citizens, and various other folks in the community there, want to make sure that the right decisions are made, and who can blame them? We have asked for local democracy, and this is local democracy in action. There are many locals in Ōāmaru who believe that in the 19th century the land was made a reserve for all time—that sheep grazed on it, that it was there as a reserve, and that it was not endowment land. We will hear this debated at the select committee—and Labour will support the bill’s referral to the select committee to hear this bill debated—because it is a live issue. It is contentious in the local community.
There is an ongoing dispute about whether or not an error occurred—it is not even completely clear that an error occurred—and about whether or not this land should, therefore, fall under the Reserves Act. Those people who are upset say that the council has refused to provide evidence of the error the Crown allegedly made. If this is true, it is of concern indeed. This should be a transparent process, and I have little doubt that it will be a transparent process once it gets to the select committee, but these are contentious issues.
It is also alleged that the council granted itself a consent without a full public consenting process. Again, locals are niggly about this. They feel that, again, they deserve full transparency in these processes, and they question whether consenting done in this way is lawful. So there are some in the community who suggest it may be advisable that an independent commissioner be appointed to examine the council’s granting of consents to itself. These kinds of suggestions show the strength of feeling in the community, and that is why we should have this full debate at the select committee.
We understand that Ngāi Tahu supports this changing of the status of the land to clarify it as endowment land, if indeed that is the right thing to do, but it is also true that Waitaha have concerns about this land. Those concerns are yet to be aired, and they will, I am sure, also be aired in the select committee.
We know the history of the bill, or some members have alluded to it. The changes in this piece of legislation were previously contained in the Reserves and Other Lands Disposal Bill, which currently languishes at No. 29 on the Order Paper. It is not progressing. But the select committee process should progress this matter and bring it to a fruitful conclusion.
I would encourage the select committee to consider going down to Ōāmaru and seeing the fine sights down there—
Jacqui Dean: Oh, wonderful idea.
Dr DAVID CLARK: —visiting the local opera house, and I am sure the local member will make the committee members feel at home. It is a fabulous part of the country, and when Labour took the Waitaki River plan legislation through the select committee process, it made absolutely sure that the select committee went down to Ōāmaru—
Phil Twyford: There was a very good MP then.
Dr DAVID CLARK: —there was a good MP locally then, the Hon David Parker—because Labour believes in having good local consultation. I would encourage the select committee to follow that model, to get down and speak to the people in Ōāmaru, and to make sure that all those local views are taken into consideration.
On the matter of asset sales, as we close, Dr Nick Smith mentioned asset sales. Well, there is feeling about these assets. There is concern that there is a potential here to privatise things that should not be privatised. We think that sunlight will be a great disinfectant here. These things should be examined. They should be looked at. Members of the local community—those I have spoken to—are indeed concerned about asset sales, and I would encourage them to get down to Dunedin this coming Saturday to the march that will leave the dental school at 11 a.m. to express their discontent with the Government, which wants to sell the assets. But in Ōāmaru, if the select committee comes down, they will have their say on this issue, as well.
LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō)
: I am very pleased to follow my colleagues who have spoken so ably on this bill, the Waitaki District Council Reserves and Other Land Empowering Bill, sponsored by Jacqui Dean. We have heard already the just fantastic results that as a local MP she has been able to achieve, unlike the member who was in the area before her.
I think it is really important just to reflect on some of the comments that my colleagues have made, because I think it is worthy that they are brought back to the House’s attention, particularly the one about the fact that this is a local bill. This side of the House is really proud to make progress on local bills, so we will be efficiently and effectively dealing with this local bill, unlike some of the others that unfortunately we had to deal with in the 49th Parliament. Also, just to reiterate, this is a local bill, and this is a Government that is delivering on the wishes of the local people of Waitaki, which is very similar to the discussions we had in this House yesterday around the local government reform debate.
I was listening very carefully in the earlier debates, and I am sure I heard those members opposite saying they were supporting this bill, so I shall also be very interested when they speak tomorrow and in further debates on legislation allowing the ability for assets to be moved, replaced, and altered for things that can be done far more effectively. Given the confidence of my colleagues before me, I shall leave it at that. I am proud to support this bill.
JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki)
: I want to thank members across the House for their contributions in the first reading of the Waitaki District Council Reserves and Other Land Empowering Bill, and I want to thank them also for their support of this bill to go to the select committee. There were a couple of comments that were made that I will pick up, perhaps in a gentle way, because I think we are going to have very good scrutiny of this bill. If there is, indeed, a letter around that will be used as evidence to prove one way or another whether the land known as Lookout Point is reserve or endowment land, then let us see it, so that the select committee can consider its contents and get some advice on it. The second matter was raised by the New Zealand First member who said that there has been no public notification. Well, in the course of advertising for a local bill, of course there is public notification, so the process has just started with this bill. Of course, the chair of the Local Government and Environment Committee will be opening this bill for public consideration and submission, and I look forward to—and, indeed, I am encouraging—many people to make submissions on this bill.
As members around the House have acknowledged, there are three matters that are raised in this bill. The first two are relatively uncontroversial. They regularise the status of two parcels of land, and once this bill has passed, that will be to the benefit of two families, one in Palmerston at the show grounds and the other one in the north of Ōāmaru, who are waiting for this bill to be passed through the Parliament so that that land, which they in good faith thought was theirs, either by ownership or by lease, can now be theirs legally. Those were the first two parts of the bill. The third portion of the bill, which is to do with Forrester Heights, is, as we have seen, a little more contentious, and I look forward—if, indeed, there is any new evidence to be brought to the select committee—to seeing that evidence so that we can give it consideration. My belief is that this provision is about correcting a historical mistake.
Furthermore, I just want to say about that third matter that what the local authority may or may not choose to do with that land is outside the scope of this bill, and is also contingent on the bill, in fact, passing. I would also like to add that whatever the council decides to do with that land is a matter for it, because that is what local government is all about. Our part through Parliament is to scrutinise and either confirm, amend, or reject the proposition that has been put up to us via this bill.
I want to acknowledge Ngāi Tahu, I want to acknowledge the Waitaki District Council for bringing this bill to the House, to council solicitor Ben Coleman, who has worked on this bill, and also I want to acknowledge the assistance of the Office of the
Clerk, which has been really helpful, both to me and to the local community, in bringing this bill to the House.
Again, and I am going to say it again because I think it is very important, and I do hope some members of the local committee are watching or listening: please make your submissions to the Local Government and Environment Committee. I have already given my commitment to some of you that we will make it as easy as possible for you to have your point of view heard during the course of this bill. I can assure the House, on behalf of the chair Nicky Wagner, because it is her committee, that the committee will give this bill very close and open scrutiny. So I am very pleased to commend the Waitaki District Council Reserves and Other Land Empowering Bill to the House.
referred to the Local Government and Environment Committee.