The Department of Conservation (DOC) has agreed to a controversial land swap that will enable a $500 million skifield development in Canterbury.
DOC director-general Al Morrison said the swap with Australian company Blackfish, which owns the Porters Ski Area, would protect a rare piece of coastal native forest on Banks Peninsula and result in a "net gain" for conservation.
Blackfish has welcomed the deal.
With land it acquires in the swap, the company intends to expand into the adjacent Crystal Valley with six new ski trails, an access gondola, three high-speed chairlifts and a lodge.
Over 15 years, the company plans to spend $500m developing its ski area, about an hour's drive west of Christchurch, including building a 3500-bed alpine village.
Morrison said yesterday that he had agreed in principle to the land-exchange proposal, subject to conditions. Under the proposal, DOC would exchange 198 hectares of conservation land in Crystal Valley in return for a 70ha forest block on private Banks Peninsula land known as Steep Head Gully.
"Protecting remaining coastal forests blocks like Steep Head Gully is a conservation priority. Bringing this forest under public ownership improves the quality and the extent of land DOC manages," Morrison said.
The proposal resulted in a net gain for conservation, considering public access and conservation values would be preserved in the Porters Valley and the protection of the Banks Peninsula forest, he said. Blackfish would surrender 320ha of Porters Valley ski lease land back to DOC.
Porters development manager Mike Sleigh said the ski area's expansion was the most exciting tourism development in the country in 30 years.
Morrison's decision goes against advice from the Canterbury Aoraki Conservation Board and has angered Forest & Bird, which has called it "outrageous".
"It's crazy to think a deal has been done right under the noses of the New Zealand public which gives away our right to protect our natural heritage," Forest & Bird conservation advocate Nicola Vallance said.
Last year, Blackfish withdrew a previous land-swap proposal, which included $150,000-a-year support for a kiwi recovery programme, after DOC indicated it would be rejected.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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