Kiwi anger over Twain land sale
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (CNN) -- The contentious issue of foreign ownership of New Zealand land is flaring again following a government decision to allow Canadian singer Shania Twain to buy nearly 25,000 hectares (62,000 acres) of picturesque mountain farmland.
Twain and her husband Robert "Mutt" Lang were granted approval by the Overseas Investment Commission Thursday to buy two South Island high-country farm properties near the popular tourist district of Lake Wanaka.
Foreign ownership of New Zealand land stirs high passions among the nation's usually phlegmatic citizens.
Farmers in this primarily agricultural country argue wealthy offshore investors are pushing land prices far beyond their potential worth as productive property, while other New Zealanders argue their birthright is being sold to the highest bidder.
New Zealand's indigenous Maori, who make up about 14 percent of the country's 4 million population, also argue that the sell-off is a threat to their cultural and natural heritage.
Announcing the decision Thursday, New Zealand Finance Minister Michael Cullen said the sale to Twain had been approved only "subject to some strong conditions around public access and conservation values."
These included guaranteeing public access through the land via a hiking track and an agreement not to farm any land above 1,100 meters elevation -- an area comprising about half the two properties combined.
Cullen also said the land ultimately remained in Crown ownership.
Green Party leader Rod Donald said the sale would send a message to the world's wealthy that New Zealand was up for sale, the New Zealand Herald news Web site reports.
"I applaud the Government for placing public access and conservation caveats on the sale," Donald is quoted saying.
"But I deplore the sale of another slice heaven to absentee owners with no links or loyalty to this country."
The New Zealand government did not reveal the sale price for the land but Twain is reported to have paid close to the listed sale price of $13.9 million (NZ$21.4 million).
Anti-foreign ownership groups estimate that between 6 and 7 percent of commercially viable New Zealand land is now owned by offshore interests.