14,500 ha of Bay land up for grabs

By John Cousins

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The Overseas Investment Office has given approval for thousands of hectares of Bay of Plenty land to be sold to foreigners.

Figures covering the last seven years showed that 14,500 hectares of Bay land was authorised by the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) to be sold to overseas owners - an area 1000 hectares larger than Tauranga, New Zealand's lifestyle capital.

Data obtained by Terralink International under the Official Information Act showed that almost six per cent of the Bay's commercial land was in foreign ownership.

Only Auckland had a higher percentage of commercial land consented to be sold to overseas interests - 17 per cent.

Terralink managing director Mike Donald said the data showed 14,500 hectares of Bay land had been approved for sale to foreign owners since August 2005.

"That's just 1.05 per cent of the region's total land area. It dispels any myth that Bay of Plenty residents are becoming tenants in their own land."

Tauranga MP Simon Bridges said 1 per cent was a good figure. "Any less would actually be concerning because it would tend to indicate too much of a fortress New Zealand mentality."

He said the figure for commercial property was the most interesting and positive.

"Tauranga wants and needs this sort of investment from overseas. I hear time and time again from local businesses that one of their biggest problems is access to capital and investment."

Mr Bridges said the data indicated that there was overseas interest in investing in Tauranga businesses. "We want to encourage this in our commercial sector in order to grow high value jobs."

And the figures for residential and rural approvals were where Mr Bridges expected them to be, saying he sympathised with the many New Zealanders who feared that too many farms and residential properties were going overseas. "We don't want this to happen and this shows it isn't."

New Zealand First List MP Brendan Horan of Tauranga said the figures showed a total lack of concern by the Government for the future of New Zealand. A "real concern" was the forests being bought in strategic areas of the country.

"Governments are supposed to act as stewards and protect the land for future generations. We cannot go overseas and buy land in this fashion."

Mr Horan said land in overseas hands should only be made available for sale back to New Zealanders. "We can't give away our country."

He said foreigners would end up shipping their New Zealand raw produce to overseas factories and then marketing it as "New Zealand" produce. "That endangers our brand internationally."

Terralink said the data reflected the national trend of proportionally more industrial and commercial land being consented for sale.

Mr Donald said there was a lot of speculation and uncertainty around foreign land ownership and Terralink had analysed and mapped the consents to give New Zealanders a reality check.

Forests were the most in demand by overseas buyers of the Bay's rural land. A total of 13,900 ha of forests were consented for sale, compared with 300 ha of pastoral land and 100 ha of horticultural land.

A total of 1.4 per cent of New Zealand's total rural land area has been consented to be sold to foreign owners since 2005. Southland had the highest percentage of of consented industrial land - 26 per cent.

The consents issued by the OIO did not necessarily mean that the acquisition proceeded.

For example, an aerial photo of Comvita's Paengaroa factory was supplied by Terralink as illustrating a Bay commercial property that had been consented for overseas sale.

Comvita chairman Neil Craig said the company still owned the property so he assumed the application must have been lodged with the OIO by Singapore-based company Cerebos Pacific during its unsuccessful takeover bid last year.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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