Public lands are New Zealanders’ commons, and are administered on their behalf by the Department of Conservation under the Conservation Act 1987. Potential to concede use of parts of the commons to private commercial endeavor exists under the legislation. Potential to concede nature’s right to perpetual preservation is substantially more limited. Fundamental to concessions is the ‘conceding’ of something of value – in this context, a part of the common good. Concessions are privileges, involving use of public land set aside for conservation and, subject to that, public enjoyment. The public conservation estate is not land that is awaiting exploitation.
The Conservation Act‘s Part 3B sets an appropriately high bar for most aspects of how concessions are managed by the Department of Conservation. FMC doesn’t doubt that very many concessions for private activities on public conservation land are handled well in all respects. In spite of this, FMC has long-time experience of a variety of ways in which DOC’s administration of concessions falls short. We have found that shortcomings can be due to the poor quality of processing manuals to guide concessions staff or a lack of detail in some plans or conservation management strategy documents, but more often to flaws in the Department’s processes. Common process flaws include accepting applications that are clearly inconsistent with the legislation, not challenging the applicants when they don’t supply sufficient documentation, poor reporting on the Department’s side, project creep through successive amendments of concessions, lack of public notification and lack of transparency.
Because of all of this, FMC believes that a comprehensive review of DOC’s concessions management is essential and urgent. There are some minor legislative issues that warrant attention.
During the past year, members of the FMC Executive have examined DOC’s current concessions apparatus, and written up their findings and recommendations in the document
This document has been shared with the Minister of Conservation, and has attracted the attention of news media:
Photo at top: Ruapehu skilift, Whakapapa skifield, Tongariro National Park. (c) Danilo Hegg