What changes to public conservation land concessions mean
Recent law changes have improved operational aspects of the Conservation Act for companies doing business on public conservation land.
One long-established tool for protecting New Zealand’s pristine public conservation areas is the requirement for firms undertaking business in places such as national parks to apply for concessions to do so.
Unfortunately, the process for concession holders wishing to renew concessions has historically been a problematic chore for many companies. It has hindered their ability to make long-term business plans and timeframes for processing concession applications have never been prescribed.
Now businesses operating on such land have improved certainty and will experience some improvements in concessions processing after amendments to the Conservation Act 1987.
The government’s latest changes allow for operations to continue during the renewal process, which will help prevent unnecessary business disruption or the necessity to gain interim concessions for the transitional period.
New regulations prescribing time limits for processing applications will reduce delay and also increase certainty for applicants, but there is no indication of when any such regulations will come into force.
Good news for many
It is good news for the many tourism businesses affected by these changes, such as skifields, guided walks, jet boat trips, nature tours, kayak tours and helicopter companies. Other concession holders to benefit from the improvements include wind and hydro power generators and accommodation providers.
The Conservation Amendment Act 2012 is the latest in a line of changes to the Conservation Act that flow from the Department of Conservation’s 2010 review of the concessions processing regime.
This review resulted in a number of recommended changes to improve the timeliness, efficiency, certainty and transparency of the concessions process.
The Amendment Act is one of the measures aimed at changing the organisational behaviour of the department regarding concessions work, to improve how business is done. If the review's recommendations come to fruition, it will remove a lot of headaches experienced by businesses in this arena.
One change allows existing concession holders to continue to operate during the process of applying for a replacement concession even if their term has expired.
A concession holder whose term has expired and who has been declined a replacement concession is also allowed to continue to operate until the minister of conservation has formally reconsidered the decision.
Under the new law, the governor-general now has the power to make regulations that prescribe time limits for processing concession applications, which will give applicants more certainty about the timeframe in which they will receive a decision from the department.
The latest changes back up amendments made in 2010 to enable licences to be granted for up to 10 years without mandatory public notification, to increase the maximum term for permits from five to 10 years, and to prevent people from making applications for concessions when the minister of conservation has already initiated a tender process for the particular activity.
As a package of reforms, further amendments to the Act are still required to give effect to the recommended overhaul of the concessions regime.
While the reforms to date are a step forward, more are needed so the regime is fair, consistent and user-friendly for businesses and other participants.
Maree Baker-Galloway is a partner at Anderson Lloyd Lawyers in Dunedin, specialising in resource management and environmental law