There’s a fair bit of misinformation and misunderstanding around the Marine & Coastal Area Bill.  Below is a letter I wrote to the Southland Times which was published today setting out some of the facts:

Some recent correspondents have misunderstood the intentions of the Marine and Coastal Area Bill currently before Parliament.

This Bill makes clear that no-one owns the common marine and coastal area.  . It is a common space, and will not be able to be sold off.  All New Zealanders have the right equally to walk, swim, fish, sail, dive, surf, picnic or play in it, just as they do now.

In terms of customary title, The Marine and Coastal Area Bill requires applicants to prove use and occupation from the date of sovereignty (1840) through to the present day without substantial interruption.

Customary title confers a specialised title with certain rights. It is not a fee simple property right. It does not mean the right to exclude the public, or the right to sell the property.

It certainly does not give the right to charge for access to this area.

The 2004 Act put in place by Labour was a mess.  The vesting of absolute ownership of the marine and coastal area in the Crown was an unprincipled move – but also a blunt instrument that had unintended consequences for business and rights-holders.

It meant that, after 2004, vital infrastructure such as port companies could not obtain title to reclamations necessary for future growth. At best they could seek temporary leases from the new owner, the Crown – an impediment to certainty and investment.

The new Bill fixes this.