25 Jul 2018

Hunter Valley access dispute: Matt Lauer 'doesn't want money' - lawyer

2:09 pm on 25 July 2018

American millionaire Matt Lauer doesn't want taxpayer compensation for separate vehicle access through his Hunter Valley Station, his lawyer says.

Hunter Valley Station

Hunter Valley Station Photo: Flickr / Leigh Blackall

Instead, Graeme Todd, who is a director of Orange Lakes and who acts for Mr Lauer, told Morning Report the former television host wants to stay with the status quo.

"My client doesn't want to accept the money because the money will only be paid if there is an easement granted. And it doesn't want to have an easement," he said.

Hunter Valley Station, which surrounds the Hāwea Conservation Park, was last year leased for $13 million to Mr Lauer - though that figure is now disputed by Mr Todd.

Mr Lauer faced a review by the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) after being dumped by NBC over sexual misconduct allegations and was cleared to retain the property.

The Walking Access Commission wants vehicle access right in to the lake and conservation estate - a 40km road and estimated two-to-three hour drive.

Mr Todd said he first heard of the easement application, which would give about 100 vehicles a month access through the property, a few months ago.

If the application went ahead, they wouldn't have control of who was on the property, he said.

"Who is the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff if anybody gets in trouble? There is no cellphone coverage.

"You're many miles away from any form of community where such services would be provided. That's the reason why we suggested that a more practical form of access was for people to check in with the farm."

Former NBC anchor Matt Lauer.

Former NBC anchor Matt Lauer. Photo: AFP

Mr Todd said the public already had walking access over the farm track, which goes about 40km from the farmstead to the head of the station, if they first call up - a condition that was volunteered by Mr Lauer when the sale was made.

"That has worked for the past year. There has not been any issues. Nobody has raised any complaints with Walking Access Commission, or the Department of Conservation, or Land Information NZ or the Queenstown-Lakes District Council."

Only three or four people have been stopped from visiting the working sheep and beef farm, he said.

OIO 'spooked'

Meanwhile, the Federated Mountain Clubs president Peter Wilson said he believed talks on public access were held between Mr Todd and government ministers when the sale of the station was going through.

"The original proposal was for access along the full length of the property and we believe discussions happened at a high level between Graham Todd - Matt Lauer's lawyer - and National Party ministers that got the Overseas Investment Office spooked and they back down from providing public access," he said.

But Mr Todd has categorically denied this: "I have never spoken to any National Party minister concerning the matter either before or after the decision was made," he said.

"To the contrary, I was the one who negotiated public access over the station on behalf of Orange Lakes which includes public access."

Crown 'should clarify law'

Environmental geographer Ann Brower, from the University of Canterbury, said in order for an overseas investment to go through it needed to benefit New Zealand.

Ms Brower said the Commissioner of Crown Lands should have ensured road access.

"The commissioner could have, and should have, acted for the benefit [and] in the interests of New Zealanders by securing reasonable and reliable access for the public through Crown land to Crown land behind."

Ms Brower, who has spent years looking at how New Zealand's high country Crown leases are managed, said there was no explicit right in law for a lessee to exclude people - only an implied right - and the government should clarify the legislation.

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