DOC defends approach as West Coast bach owners feel 'pressured'

8:13 pm on 7 February 2023
Pororari River Track in Paparoa National Park in the New Zealand

The Porarari River in the Paparoa National Park is part of the conservation estate on the West Coast. Photo: 123RF

Fears are being raised about continued tenure of some West Coast family baches on conservation land, although the Department of Conservation says the occupation is "a privilege not a right".

Legal changes under DOC's enabling legislation means that permitted activity on public conservation land, including private huts or baches, is now subject to local government rate demands.

Ngāi Tahu board member and Hari Hari dairy farmer Rob Wilson raised the question at the December meeting of the West Coast Conservation Board.

This followed three separate approaches to him from bach or hut owners at Paringa, Poerua and Karangarua worried at what they saw as a threat to their continued tenure.

Wilson said there needed to be compromise "instead of bullying" by the department.

Concerns included a change to the pricing structure for leases, which have "escalated".

Some were also surprised at now being hit with council rates on top of their lease payments to DOC.

"All three I have talked to feel like they're getting pressured until they move off," Wilson said.

DOC Western South Island director Mark Davies defended the department's approach.

"For clarity, the department is not bullying anybody. We are working through a process for people who are coming to an end on leases."

Reviewing the leases was a complex matter centred on legal requirements over ensuring access across DOC administered land to private land.

"Certainly the Conservation Management Strategy has got a whole lot of provisions around those sorts of baches," Davies said.

"A lot of those baches have come up for renewal so we have been through the process ... a draft has been shared with all the bach owners."

DoC Western South Island director Mark Davies - single use only

Mark Davies: "A lot of those baches have come up for renewal" Photo: LDR / Greymouth Star / Brendon McMahon

Any concern around rates was one for the particular council.

However, he noted there had been a change with the Conservation Act that anyone with a permitted activity on conservation land was now rateable.

"Councils are working through that. Yes, people will be getting rates [bills] because they are rateable."

A review of permissions by DOC was under way.

"We are moving to market rentals, because access is a privilege, not a right," Davies said.

However, the long history of baches on the West Coast was acknowledged, including that some had heritage value.

A pending review of the Conservation Management Strategy for the West Coast was likely to address it, in line with a requirement to "phase out" private accommodation on conservation land.

"It doesn't specify a timeframe ... therefore when those leases come up it is very hard," Davies said.

Wilson said one bach owner had received a letter saying they had to occupy their bach a minimum number of nights a year, which seemed onerous given some were river access only and were subject to weather and river conditions anyway.

"They are saying the occupancy is 100 days a year but to have someone there like that is impossible."

The requirement seemed like an anomaly but it was very contentious as some huts were used for seasonal whitebaiting and "letting go" of that traditional practice would be a big issue.

Davies said DOC had "a range of approaches to what phasing out means".

However, it could be worked through within the statutory framework available to DOC.

Conservation board deputy chairwoman Katie Milne declared an interest due to family ownership of a South Westland bach, but said it was a tough situation with enforced change.

"Perhaps it would be a matter of DOC changing its policy approach."

She believed a lot of baches were now being left to deteriorate given the uncertainty for their owners.

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