FIG Peer Review Journal


Property Rights for a New World: Adapting to an Ethic of Sustainability (4149)

Mick Strack (New Zealand)
Dr. Mick Strack
School of Surveying
University of Otago
P O Box 56
New Zealand
Corresponding author Dr. Mick Strack (email: mick.strack[at], tel.: + 64 3 479 7603)

[ abstract ] [ paper ] [ handouts ]

Published on the web 2010-01-14
Received 2009-11-19 / Accepted 2010-01-14
This paper is one of selection of papers published for the FIG Congress 2010 in Sydney, Australia and has undergone the FIG Peer Review Process.

FIG Congress 2010
ISBN 978-87-90907-87-7 ISSN 2308-3441


This paper reviews some of the standard conceptions of property, acknowledging that western property regimes have served the requirements for productive land and resource use, enabled economic growth, and provided a focus on individual rights. Balanced against this, a review of the emerging concept of sustainability suggests that environmental integrity, social equity and a responsibility for the common good are necessary requirements for continued existence on this earth. The paper then contextualises the discussion to the New Zealand tenure review programme implemented during the last decade to reassign property rights in the South Island high country. The goals of the programme include the more effective management of the land, protection and restoration of land, and provision of public access. These goals seem to correlate with aspects of the sustainability goals, but in fact there has been much concern that it is reinforcing and expanding the property rights of previous leaseholders, who obtain freehold title freed from most management constraints, and are therefore able to profit from new uses and development opportunities, higher valuations, while also being able to significantly alter the iconic landscapes. In particular, two recent court decisions have similarly reinforced property rights by denying public access rights over pastoral lease land and by dismissing the common goods of stunning views, iconic landscape, and high ecological value from the lease valuations. Finally, examples and models of an entirely new paradigm are considered, including the application of a land ethic, the adoption of the Earth Charter, and accepting a new covenant with the earth. In spite of the apparent power of the current discourse on sustainability it seems that in New Zealand, constitutional, statutory and judicial law is maintaining strong protections for individual property rights and making little effort to address the common good.
Keywords: property rights; sustainability; land ethic; tenure review