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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



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Present-day Land Policy and Development

In 1948 the land laws were amended and consolidated in a Land Act which repealed 78 other Acts or parts of Acts. The aim of the Act was to give the Crown lessee maximum rights consistent with the national interest, with the underlying principle that a secure tenure is the basis of farming progress. The new legislation reconstituted the Land Settlement Board and added private farmer members. The Board became the chief executive arm of the Department of Lands and Survey with power to delegate authority to officers of the Department and to Land Settlement Committees in each of the 12 land districts. Except for leases of high-country land in the South Island, the Act gave the right of freehold to those already leasing land on permanent leases. It established the 33-year renewable lease as the standard tenure for Crown leases, with farm land to be disposed of by ballot at fixed values under three options – renewable lease, deferred payments, or cash.

While the Land Act 1948 did not give the right of freehold to lessees of pastoral land in the South Island high country, it did give them a secure tenure. About 8 million acres of this land are leased from the Crown in 600 leases. Comprising as it does the bulk of the eastern watershed of the South Island, much of this land is susceptible to erosion and Government decided that it was essential in the national interest to retain control over the use made of it. As the existing tenancies expire, each is reviewed by the Land Settlement Board and is leased either on pastoral lease for 33 years, with right of renewal where the land can safely be alienated permanently, or on licence for any term up to 21 years, with no renewal rights. Rents on pastoral land are based on stock-carrying capacities and a clause in each lease limits the number of stock permitted to be carried.

As leases under former Land Acts expire, they are renewed under the Land Act 1948, and by 1964 out of a total of 15·4 million acres of Crown land held by 43,800 tenants, 11·2 million acres were held by 28,900 tenants under the Land Act 1948. The total revenue derived from Crown land held on lease or deferred payment licence amounted in 1964 to £2,510,000. Apart from 15,400 leases and licences over urban land – residential sections subdivided by the Government and made available mainly to private home builders – and 2,300 miscellaneous temporary tenancies of small areas of Crown land, the remaining 26,100 leases were all permanent leases over farm or pastoral land.

Since 1941 the Land Settlement Board has undertaken development for settlement on 2·7 million acres of land, and in 23 years 1·7 million acres have been disposed of in 4,100 farms. The 1 million acres on hand are expected to provide another 1,600 farms at the rate of about 75 farms a year. Of the 2·7 million acres on which development had been undertaken, 1·6 million acres had been bought by negotiation from private owners, 800,000 acres were unoccupied Crown land, and 300,000 acres land acquired compulsorily from private owners between 1944 and 1952.

The land developed by the Board was mostly either completely undeveloped or partly developed – much of it being scrub-covered country which, burnt off in earlier years, had reverted to scrub and second growth. A feature of land development has been the use of the contract system. Clearing, cultivation, sowing of grass seed and fertiliser from the ground and by air, fencing and erection of buildings, are all carried out on a contract basis. Once the land has been cleared and sown in grass, sheep and cattle are used to consolidate the new pastures. When the land is ready for intensive farming it is subdivided and additional buildings are erected, after which the farms are publicly advertised for disposal and are balloted for among landless applicants who have the necessary finance and farming ability. State finance is made available initially through the Department of Lands and Survey but once the settler is firmly established, administration of mortgages is handed over to the State Advances Corporation which remains the major State lending institution with £68 million advanced to 14,105 farmers on rural securities.

To provide special loan facilities for farmers on marginal or deteriorated land, a Government scheme of rural credit was introduced under the Marginal Lands Act 1950. This is designed to supply finance and advice to farmers wishing to carry out individual development schemes but who have insufficient security to enable them to borrow through normal lending institutions.

New Zealand's area is 66 million acres, of which 44 million acres are classed as occupied. The freehold has remained the dominant land tenure and about 22 million acres – one-third of the total area and half the occupied land – are held as freehold. Crown leaseholds account for 16 million acres, about half of which is leased on pastoral tenures. Maori land accounts for 4 million acres, 17 million acres are reserved for public purposes, most of it in indigenous State forests and in national parks, and the remaining 7 million acres are unoccupied Crown land, most of it barren mountain tops, lakes, and rivers. Almost all the Maori land is in the North Island and nearly all of the Crown land leased on pastoral tenures is in the South Island.

Government policy in New Zealand since the 1890s has been consistently aimed at closer settlement and the elimination of aggregation of farm land. As the remaining areas of unoccupied farm land suitable for development are limited and are under pressure from other types of land use such as exotic forestry and housing, closer settlement in the future will depend on the allocation made of remaining undeveloped land resources, the subdivision of large properties, and the development and use of new techniques to make more intensive farming of small areas possible.

by Percy Hylton Craig Lucas, Administrative Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.

  • History of Land Legislation and Settlement in New Zealand, Jourdain, W. R. (1925)
  • New Zealand in the Making, Condliffe, J. B. (1959)
  • The Colonisation of New Zealand, Marais, J. S. (1927)
  • Crown Colony Government in New Zealand, McLintock, A. H. (1958)
  • Run, Estate and Farm – A History of the Kakanui and Waiareka Valleys, North Otago, Scotter, W. H. (1948)
  • Land of Promise – The Story of Waikakahi, Vance, W. (1957).