The real estate advertisement is spot on in describing Mt White Station as an “iconic” South Island high country station. The 40,000 hectare property is adjacent to Arthur’s Pass National Park and the upper reaches of the Waimakariri River.
Mt White Station is the second largest pastoral lease in New Zealand still owned by the Crown. Its sprawling extent includes land in the catchments of the Hawdon, Esk and Poulter river valleys, areas highly valued by trampers, hunters, and fishers and for the access they provide to the national park.
Its tussocky river flats and river terraces with beech forests and mountains beyond are part of the landscape experience for travellers on SH 73 between Christchurch and Arthur’s Pass and those on board KiwiRail’s TranzAlpine Express between Christchurch and Greymouth.
Competitors in the Coast to Coast race start the kayak section close to the Mt White bridge over the Waimakariri River and paddle downstream for some kilometres next to the pastoral lease.
Mt White Station has been owned by the Turnbull family since 1924. It’s now for sale with tenders closing this Friday 28 June. Colliers International are promoting the sale to overseas buyers with lavish illustrations of its stunning landscapes.
Mt White Station is nationally significant for its large size, its landscape, conservation and recreational values and its location next to Arthur’s Pass National Park, the Waimakariri River and conservation land in the Puketeraki and Dampier Ranges. Large parts of the property are unsuitable for farming. They deserve to be added to the conservation estate as former Prime Minister, Helen Clark did with North Canterbury’s St James station now St James Conservation Area.
As Crown pastoral lease land Mt White Station should remain in New Zealand ownership to protect the options for the future. Making St James conservation land has seen a surge in public access and enjoyment by locals and tourists. The same would happen with Mt White.
But our weak laws around overseas ownership of land, including farmland, mean there is a real risk that this magnificent high country station could be sold to offshore interests. They are more easily able to afford the purchase price than New Zealand farming or tourism interests; as happened recently when a Chinese buyer outbid a local famer wanting to buy Southland’s Jericho Station from Landcorp.
The debacle over US TV presenter Matt Lauer’s purchase of Hunter Valley station near Wanaka, where the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) failed to improve public access significantly, highlights the OIO’s rubber-stamp approach to applications. It has repeatedly put the interests of foreign nationals and companies ahead of New Zealanders’.
As Finance Minister, Bill English was responsible for tilting the playing field in favour of overseas investors with his December 2010 directives to the OIO to “minimise any unnecessary delays or administrative costs in the consent process”, and to ensure that any consent conditions on overseas investors are done in “the least onerous way including, where possible, at the least cost to the investor”. Such directives discourage the OIO from running a robust process.
If an overseas company or person seeks to buy Mt White, at the very least the Ministers of Finance and Land Information, not the Overseas Investment Office, should decide the application so that they are accountable to the public.