Te Arai sparks foreign ownership row

The Save Te Arai pressure group and Rodney MP Mark Mitchell have both cried foul over an amendment that would have allowed a Te Arai developer to escape the provisions of the Overseas Investment Amendment Bill.

The amendment was inserted into the bill following a submission by developer John Darby, along with
two local iwi. It would have facilitated the sale of houses in a 106-home luxury development at Te Arai to wealthy foreign buyers without Overseas Investment Office review.

The development is taking place on two former Crown forests secured by Te Uri o Hau and Ngati Manuhiri as part of treaty settlements. They are the 616ha Mangawhai North Forest and the 754ha Mangawhai South Forest.

Parliament’s Speaker Trevor Mallard removed the amendment from the bill last month, after concerns were raised that the inclusion of a private exemption for a Te Arai development to a public bill was inappropriate and in breach of a Speaker’s ruling.

But the removal failed to satisfy Save Te Arai chair Aaron McConchie, who said the fact the amendment made it into the bill in the first place showed the government was willing to compromise and allow foreign investments that were detrimental to New Zealanders.

“It’s good the exemptions has been removed, but what other mechanisms are running in the background for private interests to profit from a loophole or other exemption in the future,” he said.

Mr McConchie said the Overseas Investment Bill was supposed to put the best interests of New Zealand at its heart, but the creation of exclusive developments targeting rich buyers overseas did just the opposite.

“When you have got overseas investors coming in and creating exclusive gated communities that are trying to privatise amazing areas of coastline, that’s something that does not benefit New Zealand,” he said.

He added that New Zealanders ought to set the market rate for property in New Zealand, not what overseas investors were willing to overpay for a “bolthole or a tax haven or insurance policy” if things go badly in their country”.

“This is not in the best interests of New Zealand,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mark Mitchell also slammed the amendment, although for different reasons. He said the government had set a trap for itself. On the one hand, it had tried to ride a wave of popular discontent about foreign ownership and its Overseas Investment Amendment Bill was designed to curtail it.

But  he said the truth was New Zealand needed good foreign capital flowing into the country and without it, developments that were important to local iwi such as the one at Te Arai, would stall. To get around this the government had tried to introduce an amendment. But Mr Mitchell said this was the wrong approach and one of the reasons why National was opposing the bill.

“If you are going to have an amendment, don’t have it for one developer. Apply it evenly throughout the country. That’s how our laws in New Zealand are applied,” Mr Mitchell said.

But Darby Partners spokesperson David Lewis dismissed opposition to the amendment, saying the developers never sought a specific exemption for themselves but said it should apply to other developments in similar circumstances.

Moreover, Mr Lewis said both forest developments had seen the gifting of hundreds of hectares toward public coastal reserve, whereas previously the forests had been in private hands with no public reserve.

“Since when has gifting private land to public reserve under Council ownership been privatisation? The notion is utter nonsense and laughably ludicrous,” he said.     

Te Uri o Hau Settlement Trust chair Georgina Connelly also defended the amendment saying it was “right and proper”.

“Te Arai is a unique proposition following extensive consultation with the Department of Conservation, Council and the local community. We agreed a comprehensive land use plan for our commercial treaty redress, which delivers a sustainable economic outcome, but much more significant associated public benefits.”

Ms Connelly said maximising the tribe’s investment in Te Arai was crucial to its future well-being.  

“We desperately hope this issue can be resolved to deliver a quality, sustainable asset for Te Uri o Hau and also Ngati Manuhiri,” she said.