Foreshore law questioned in new book



The Foreshore and Seabed legislation comes to a head in February but the Government is taking a pasting from both sides in the debate. One of its strongest critics is DR HUGH BARR, whose new book, “The Gathering Storm”, argues that National is giving too much away, and in this extract from the book he explains why:

We hear a lot about the “foreshore and seabed” but what exactly does the term mean? As one walks down the beach, the foreshore starts at mean high water springs (spring high tide MHWS), followed by mean high water mark (MHWM), and then mean sea level (MSL), followed by mean low water mark (MLWM), and then finally mean low water springs (MLWS). This is followed by the seabed, which stretches from MLWS to the limit of the territorial sea (12 nautical miles from land).

New Zealand has a large foreshore and seabed area, partly because we are long, narrow islands. It is defined approximately as the area from mean high water springs (in all harbours and river-mouths where there is a tidal rise and fall), out to the extent of New Zealand’s territorial sea.

From 1840 until the Territorial Sea, Contiguous Zone, and Exclusive Economic Zone Act 1977, the outer limit of the territorial sea was three nautical miles. But this Act increased it to twelve nautical miles.

A nautical mile is approximately 1,852 metres (1.852 km). It is also 2,025 yards long, so is 15% longer than a mile, i.e. 1.15 times a mile (1,760 yards). Twelve nautical miles equals 22.2 km. Two hundred nautical miles (the direct distance to the normal boundary of a nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), if it has one, is 370 km. The foreshore and seabed of the New Zealand mainland are shown in Maps 1-4.

It is estimated that the area of the foreshore and seabed, using a coastal baseline, is more that 10 million hectares (100,000 sq km). New Zealand’s mainland area is about 27 million ha, (270,000 sq km). So, the area of foreshore and seabed is greater than 35% of New Zealand’s land area.

New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) extends for at least 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the coast i.e. 188 nautical miles beyond the territorial sea. The EEZ can also include additional areas of continental shelf. As New Zealand is effectively a sunken continent, called Zealandia, the continental shelf that we are allowed extends even further, though it is constrained by the Australian possessions of Norfolk Island and Macquarie Island.

New Zealand has the fourth largest EEZ in the world, covering an estimated 4,083,744sq km. Under the 1982 UNCLOS definition, New Zealand can claim areas within 370 km of land at mean low water springs. The EEZ is usually regarded as starting at the edge of the territorial sea (12 nm) and stretching out generally to its 200 nautical mile boundary.

A December 2003 Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) report to the Labour Government set out survey data on coastal ownership – parcels of land that adjoin the foreshore. LINZ estimates that New Zealand’s coastline is 19,883 km, including the Chatham Islands, but not the unsettled Kermadec or Sub-Antarctic Islands. This coastal land either stretches to mean high water springs, or, in rare cases, goes beyond it into the foreshore or possibly the seabed, as a result of erosion.

Of this land LINZ claims that the Crown owns over a third (37.6%) (7,455 km). This includes national park land that runs to the coast, marginal access strips – (part of the Queen’s Chain) and reserves and railway land.
Regional and district councils own almost a third (31.4%), mostly made up of esplanade reserves (from coastal subdivision), public recreation reserves, and road parcels (part of the Queen’s Chain).

Privately owned land makes up the remaining 30.4% of resolved coastline, with 0.6% unresolved. General land covers 3,979 km (20%) and there are 2,916 parcels of Maori land covering 2,053 km (10.4%) of coastline. So, if customary title should be awarded only for exclusive Maori possession, then only a maximum of 10.4% could qualify.
However, National’s Treaty Negotiations Minister, Chris Finlayson, has said that the requirement for Maori exclusive occupation since 1840 will be waived. Also, once the principle of Maori customary title to the foreshore and seabed becomes law, it opens the way for Treaty claims to all the foreshore and seabed.

Very little of the foreshore and seabed is privately owned
350 parcels were originally surveyed to MHWS, and have a moveable marginal strip. 12,243 parcels were originally surveyed to the MHWM, i.e. have no Queen’s Chain. 9,403 of these are general land parcels (3,843 km), and 2,840 are Maori land parcels (1,996 km). The LINZ report identified 240 parcels and 46.8 sq km of land as being either privately owned seabed parcels or eroded parcels. So the seabed in private ownership is not large (4680 hectares).

For further extended coverage of this story, see the January 2011 issue of Investigate, further details on our Facebook page (link at right)