Part 1: Introduction

Department of Conservation: Planning for and managing publicly owned land.

In this Part, we describe:

Why we undertook an audit

The Department of Conservation (the Department) manages more than 8.5 million hectares of publicly owned land. The value of the land managed by the Department is $2,971 million.1

The publicly owned land that the Department manages is clearly valuable and considerable – nearly a third of the country’s total land area. There is also wide public interest in the land managed by the Department.

We wanted to know if the Department had clarified through strategic planning its long-term goals and objectives for the publicly owned land it manages. We wanted to see if the Department’s management systems could adequately support that planning, and if the information systems could help the Department to check its progress and adequately inform the Department’s planning.

Purpose of our audit

The purpose of our audit was therefore to:

  • assess the Department’s strategic planning for the publicly owned land it manages;
  • assess the Department’s management systems for achieving strategic goals and objectives for land;
  • and assess the Department’s information systems for informing planning and decision-making about land, and measuring progress in implementing the strategic goals and objectives.

In this report, by strategic planning we mean planning for long-term goals and objectives. When we discuss management systems, we mean the processes and procedures to ensure that long-term goals and objectives are achieved, while information systems enable the Department to gather, store, and use information about land.

Our expectations

To assess the Department’s strategic planning for land, and the adequacy of its management and information systems for implementing that planning, we set up audit criteria (or expectations). We considered the requirements of the legislation the Department must comply with, and best practice and guidance material from overseas. In particular, we referred to:

  • the World Conservation Union’s guidance on national system planning for protected areas;2
  • a report by the Australian National Audit Office on property management;3 and
  • good practice guidance on property management from the National Audit Office in the United Kingdom.4

We expected the Department to have:

  • comprehensive national strategic planning for the publicly owned land it manages;
  • clear and robust management systems supporting co-ordinated strategic priorities, and administrative processes and procedures; and
  • consistent and accessible information management systems.

We set out our expectations in more detail in Parts 3, 4, and 5.

How we conducted the audit

During the scoping phase of our audit, the Department told us that it did not have a documented national strategic plan for land. We therefore looked for evidence, within the Department’s planning and management activities, that the Department was carrying out national strategic planning for the significant amount of publicly owned land that it manages. We acknowledge that the Department has a different view to ours about the level and extent of strategic planning needed for publicly owned land.

To assess the Department’s planning for and management of land, we reviewed the Department’s strategies, plans, and reports. We interviewed Head Office staff in Wellington, and staff in 3 Conservancy Offices and Area Offices in the Northland, East Coast Hawke’s Bay, and West Coast Tai Poutini Conservancies.

We wanted to identify how national objectives and priorities informed strategies, plans, land transaction approaches, and activity at a conservancy level. We selected those 3 particular conservancies because they varied in size, and were geographically distant from each other.

The stakeholders we interviewed were:

  • the chairperson of the New Zealand Conservation Authority;
  • the chairpersons of the Northland, East Coast Hawke’s Bay, and West Coast Tai Poutini Conservation Boards;
  • representatives of Federated Farmers of New Zealand Inc;
  • representatives of the New Zealand Fish and Game Council;
  • representatives of the Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society of New Zealand Inc;and
  • tāngata whenua representatives in some of our fieldwork locations.

Outside the scope of the audit

Our audit focused on publicly owned land managed by the Department. We did not consider covenants, or similar arrangements on private land, reserves managed by local authorities, specific permissions for activities on land, marine reserves, marine mammal sanctuaries, or the foreshore and seabed.

We did not look at the Department’s involvement in the land tenure review process led by Land Information New Zealand, or how the Department gets land through contestable Ministerial funds, such as the Nature Heritage Fund.

We did not look at the Department’s conservation management plans for specific sites, land management treatments or initiatives (such as pest management or specific species recovery programmes), the effectiveness of any such treatments or initiatives, or how they were being undertaken. We did not look in detail at the day-to-day management of conservancies.

The New Zealand Conservation Authority and Conservation Boards have statutory roles in relation to approving and reviewing policies, strategies, and plans within the statutory conservation planning framework. We did not audit the performance of the New Zealand Conservation Authority or Conservation Boards in carrying out their roles.

1: Department of Conservation, Annual Report for the year ended 30 June 2005, Wellington, parliamentary paper C.13, ISSN 1176-7324.

2: Davey, A.G., 1998, National System Planning for Protected Areas, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, United Kingdom.

3: Australian National Audit Office, 2003, Property Management, Audit Report No. 19 2003-04, Commonwealth of Australia.

4: Appendix 2 in Ministry of Defence: Identifying and Selling Surplus Property, 1998, National Audit Office, United Kingdom, ISBN 010297098X.

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